Anti-ScienceRandom Asides

Stupid headline of the day

Courtesy of the Telegraph, I give you: Britons ‘healthier in medieval times’

Any child can tell you that such a statement is just stupidly wrong, wrong, wrong. I only clicked the link to find out how the journalist/editor/headline writer could possibly convince him or herself that such an insipid thing is true. I’ll save you the same trouble and tell you that it’s because a PHARMACY CHAIN cracked open a history book and found that 16th century Britons who were extraordinarily wealthy were able to afford a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish, which is — surprise! — more healthful than a SuperSized Happy Fat Meal (or whatever). So that’s what makes them “healthier” than today’s Briton.

Oh, never mind the fact that even wealthy 16th century Londoners tended to live to the ripe old age of 35 (25 if you’re poor and on a slightly less “healthy” diet). Never mind about the lack of sanitary living conditions, the rampant spread of disease (anyone ever hear of the PLAGUE?), the horrific state of the medical industry, and the fact that not going to the doctor gave you a better chance of surviving until tomorrow.

Yes, those truly were the years of the hale and hearty.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Yep. Those sure were the golden days. Remember how they used to drill holes into your skull with a drill the size of a large cigar? That sure cured whatever ail'd ya. Don't just make health care like they used to, I always say.

  2. Now now, Rebecca. The Plague was the 17th Century.

    Just remember, everything always gets worse and nothing ever gets better. Everything was Perfect before the Fall, right? And then humans started shrinking, which is why we now have PYGMIES + DWARFS!!!

  3. Also bathing is the devil's invention. Remember when you used to bathe once a year, if even that. Today these young whippersnappers are all over the place with their hygiene, bathing sometimes as often as once a week, Heaven forbid. I say excessive bathing is the cause for teenage violence.

  4. I couldn't think of many 16th century Londoners but from the 17th C we have Hooke (68), Newton (84), Wren (91), Wilkins (58), Cromwell (58). Of course, we tend not remember the ones who died early but I wonder if the idea that people tended to live to about 35 is a bit misleading – I suspect that once reasonably well-off people got past early childhood they had a pretty good chance of living a longish life. It was the horrible infant mortality rate that brought the average down (and the consequences of childbirth without reasonable cleanliness and medical backup further reduced the average for women).

    If half those born died in their first year and the rest lived to 70 you wouldn't say "people tended to live to about 35", would you?

  5. Ed, as you pointed out in your last sentence, average lifespan and the age at which the typical person dies is not the same.

    Many infants and children died in the 17th century, as did many young women in childbirth. This would severely shorten the average lifespan, even if many people did actually live into their 70s or 80s.

  6. Now now, Rebecca. The Plague was the 17th Century.

    Actually, it was the fourteenth century when the plague first appeared, but your point is taken.

  7. Interestingly leeches are actually being used in very specific modern medical applications!

    Not that I am arguing we were healthier in the 16th century. I agree with Rebecca that is just stupid.

    Also I think that even though some people lived through into old age the average life span still gives us useful info. It tells us your chances of dying young as a random member of 16th century society were higher than the same chances would be now. The fact that people who survived childhood and childbirth and weren't crushingly poor managed to live a reasonable time doesn't mean those death rates are distorting the average. The average is legitimately low.

    Although perhaps it is more accurate to say something like "many people died young" rather than implying everyone dropped off at 35.

  8. As someone who's just getting over pneumonia, I'm glad I went to a doctor and got antibiotics, and not a barber to get bled.

  9. "Also bathing is the devil’s invention"

    You can laugh, but the fact of the matter is the water was all so badly polluted, touching or drinking it was suicide.

  10. It's why they drank beer and wine instead of water. The brewing process actually killed most nasties that were in the water (and the little bit of alcohol it contained usually ensured it remained relatively sterile until re-opened).

  11. But people, times were better back then, what with the pesticide free infested rotten food, the bi-monthly bathing, the lack of chlorinated/fluoridated water, rats to keep you company at night and who, who I ask you, wishes to live to 40 egad!!!! Crazy people, thats who!!!

    Olde Gorthos

  12. Yes, Gorthos, and lets not forget the sport of keeping wild hogs out of your fields and middens, and bears and wolves away from your livestock, with sticks and slings. Great evenings entertainment that.

    (The statement that there are no recorded wolf attacks on people is true, for North America. There were many in Europe).

  13. Tsk tsk. Now Joshua. The plague was in the 17th Century? Yes, there was A plague in the 17th century, but the big one, The "Black Death," the one that wiped out somewhere between a third and two thirds of western Europe, was the 14th century.

    In any case, the article is about medieval Britons. The Middle Ages are usually considered to have ended by the late 14th C or early 15th C with the rise of the Renaissance. The Middle Ages were over by the 17th C.

  14. "The research also claimed that daily exercise has decreased by at least an average of 96 per cent since Roman and medieval times from eight hours a day to less than 20 minutes due to increasingly sedentary lives."

    What incredible research! Here in the United States, we are going to re-introduce slavery for eveyone! This will cut our fattening diet and we will all get much more exercise doing manual labor and dodging the whip all day. Our escape attempts will also burn mega calories!

    I have to say, I now believe the Internet is going to make us all stupid. What happened to "The Information Superhighway?" Was there a crash somewhere?

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