Julia, seen in this ESPN video, set a world record for women centenarian runners in the 100-meter dash at the 2018 USATF Masters Indoor Championships.
“I liked the idea of being 100 and doing the 100, so I took up running [after my 100th birthday],” she laughs as she explains her late entry into competitive sports. Apparently, an active life and a telephone land-line placed far from her garden patch had prepared her well for the sprint.
The concept of flourishing past your first century has become less outlandish in recent years, with many stories like Julia’s catching the public eye. New York Times best-seller Blue Zones has had such an impact on healthy living concepts that the U.S. surgeon general referred to it at the 2018 American College of Sports Medicine conference. Author Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, describes in the book his travels around the world to uncover the secrets of rare longevity hotspots with the highest concentrations of centenarians. There is a lot to learn from the simplicity of the Blue Zone lifestyles.
More paradigm-changing science reached the public in 2017 with The Telomere Effect. In the book, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and psychologist Dr. Elissa Epel explain the significance of telomeres, the protective cap at the end of our chromosomes.
Their research shows that if we nurture our telomeres by adopting various evidence-based, healthy behaviors, we may be able to increase the number of years we remain healthy, active and disease-free – known as our health span.
Despite all this publicly available, scientific evidence of the impact of healthy lifestyles on health spans, our actual behaviors still leave a lot to be desired.
Headlines, like “Tens of thousands of children become severely obese in primary school” or “China facing epidemic of heart disease, stroke,” show the urgency many are feeling to find ways to stop the situation getting out of control.
Charlotte Ersboll, senior advisor at the United Nations Global Compact, urged action at the 2017 3M Sustainability in Health Care Summit.
“Childhood obesity is a key indicator of how we’re doing on health,” she says. “With more than 40 million children under five worldwide now being classified as obese or overweight, it’s hard to imagine a glowing end-of-year report.”
Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, according to the World Health Organization. It is becoming alarmingly prevalent in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in cities. In 2016, almost half of all overweight children under the age of five lived in Asia, and one quarter lived in Africa.
The bad news is that obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and are more likely to develop chronic or non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease at a younger age.
Goaded by the headlines and worried by the threat to their populations and economies, many countries are actively promoting healthier diets and more physical activity.
Some are introducing health-focused fiscal policies like ‘sugar’ taxes. At the beginning of 2018, Norway increased its nearly 100-year-old sugar tax by 83 percent, with products like sweets and chocolates now taxed at more than US$4 per kilo.
Despite all this effort, progress is disappointingly slow, and fewer than 5 percent of countries were on target (PDF, 40.1 MB) in 2016 to reach United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals for 11 indicators, among them childhood obesity.
Global health advocates, posting on Twitter under hashtags #BeatNCDs and #EnoughNCDs, desperately hope to see a stronger focus on health promotion following a key United Nations meeting (HLM3) in late September.
Many, like Charlotte Ersboll, believe radical change is needed. “Across the board, it’s quite clear that just doing more of the same and trying to improve and drive incremental innovation [in the way we manage health] is not going to cut it,” she argues.
Governments, corporations and health advocates are beginning to work in a more coordinated sector-wide approach. In the meantime, data and technology are already driving some of that radical innovation needed to increase health spans around the world.
“We’ve been actively helping hospitals with health care data analytics for 30 years,” says Dr. Victor Miranda, Chief Medical Officer, 3M Health Care. “But now we’re seeing a dramatic leap forward with the enormous possibilities of machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence.
He explains, “3M's health care business is founded on the power of science to impact health. Our Health Information Systems division, is doing exciting work in partnership with Verily, the life sciences health data company that is under the same Alphabet umbrella as Google. At the same time, our medical device and drug delivery experts are working on ways to use health and environmental data insights and connected health apps to help people manage their own conditions and reduce risk of complications.”