The Average Weight And The Death Rate
( Originally Published 1916 )
It so happens that the function of our Life Insurance Companies is not confined to protection of the beneficiary against poverty and want after the policy holder's death. They also do a great service to humanity by discovering facts which show the dangers resulting from certain habits, and thereby point the way toward increased health and longevity.
The chief factor through which they have been able to accomplish this excellent result has been the compilation of statistics. This chapter is introduced for the purpose of presenting two tables closely related to the subject of the book.
In 1897, Dr. George R. Shepherd arranged a table showing the weight according to age and height, as obtained from the records of approved applicants for life insurance. Three hundred and fifty thousand records were compiled in 1912, and the previous table was verified. I owe these statistics to the courtesy of Dr. Paul Fitzgerald, of the Prudential Life Insurance Company, Newark, N. J.
Glancing at the following table, one can easily ascertain the average weight for one of his age and height. The figures in light type show twenty per cent. above and below the average, this being the limit of variation allowed by the Insurance Company. The heights and weights were taken in the shoes and ordinary house clothing.
It has been demonstrated that there is a definite relation between occupations and habits and the death rate. Alcohol decreases the length of life. The death rate among ministers is very low. Tables have been arranged to show the comparative death rates for those who are of average weight and for those either above or below the average. These figures were reached in the following way:
Records of a number of insured, say 100,000, were carefully studied and the death rate for each age determined. This was designated as the average, or i00 per cent. Next, the death rate for each variation from the average weight was determined, and compared with that for the aver-age. Those underweight have a higher death rate up to the thirtieth year. Those overweight, seem to escape the diseases that cause death at this period of life,— probably largely tuberculosis and typhoid. Between the ages of forty and sixty, a higher death rate is found among the over-weights. Between the ages of twenty and thirty, a deficiency of twenty pounds in weight gives an increase of 12 per cent. in the death rate. On the other hand, between forty and fifty an in-crease of twenty pounds is associated with 15 per cent. increase in the death rate; and an increase of forty pounds in weight is associated with a forty-five per cent. increase in the death rate.
It is extremely interesting to note that popular opinion is in error in regard to several phases of this subject. It is generally held that one may well be thin when young, but that it is perfectly natural to grow a little stouter as the years go by.
The reverse is true. A study of this table will show that the time of life when flesh begins to increase by the so-called natural process is the very time when overweight begins to give an increased mortality. A careful study of the table even shows that there is practically a ten per cent. greater mortality among those who have taken on the customary ten pounds, than among those who have remained at their previous weight during the fifth decade.
Furthermore, the time of the so called natural increase of weight coincides with the time when activity in dancing, games, and social pleasures is lessened, and decreased exercise rather than nature is the logical explanation.
It is evident that the young should attend well to the condition of their health if they are under-weight. However, if they have sufficient endurance, no signs of tuberculosis, or no other indication of ill health, there is no reason to feel that thinness is a matter of concern, unless it is quite extreme.
A slight excess of adipose tissue seems to be an advantage up to the thirtieth year, while the death rate is less than among those with average weights. During the fifth decade and later, it is a disadvantage. If one contracts typhoid fever, he increases his chance of death by approximately ten per cent. One in the fifth decade, twenty to forty pounds overweight, is running a greater chance of an early demise through permitting his weight to remain high than he would be by contracting typhoid fever. The thinner than average has an advantage over the average at this time of life.
The following is extremely significant to you, Apostles of Metchnikoff, Drinkers of Fermented Milk, Friends of the Bacillus Bulgaricus,—Searchers after Longevity. Among the record of insured fats, from which this table was obtained, not one reached the age of eighty. On the other hand, fourteen underweights reached eighty, and one was able to celebrate his ninetieth birthday, surrounded by his great-grandchildren long after his feasting friends had left their wines and viands to go to that region of the Inferno where starvation purges them of their sins.
The important lesson to be gained from this table is that health and longevity are favored by so selecting one's diet that his weight shall approximate that shown in the table of averages. Many thin persons feel better when they have gained a little in weight. The stout nearly always feel improved when they lose in weight. This would seem to verify the value of the table of averages. Some have noticed that there is a certain weight at which they feel that they are at their highest point of efficiency.