Toilets and Lifespan

Toilets and Lifespan


Over the past 200 years, toilets have added 20 years to the human lifespan.


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People died painfully, mostly in infancy or childhood, primarily from diseases such as tuberculosis, pleurisy, typhus, tonsillitis, cholera and dysentery. With a lack of medical understanding of these ailments, a common treatment was bloodletting. The average lifespan at the time was around 35 years.

Over the last 200 years, U.S. life expectancy has more than doubled to almost 80 years (78.8 in 2015), with vast improvements in health and quality of life. However, while most people imagine medical advancements to be the reason for this increase, the largest gain in life expectancy occurred between 1880 and 1920 due to public health improvements such as control of infectious diseases, more abundant and safer foods, cleaner water, and other nonmedical social improvements.

This period is actually referred to as the "First Public Health Revolution" and it occurred before the medical interventions of antibiotics and advanced surgical techniques were in place. Historians have concluded that improved sanitation, public water treatment, sewage management, food inspection and municipal garbage collection almost eliminated the aforementioned causes of death. Also, other social advancements such as greater understanding of nutrition, better housing conditions, air quality improvements, child labor laws and higher literacy rates also greatly improved overall health and life expectancy.


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