A New U.N. Health Goal Targets Folks 69 and Under. Ageism or Realism?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

In September, the U.N. will vote to adopt 17 Sustainable Development Goals (aka SDGs). They cover issues like poverty, health and climate change. The idea is to encourage the 192 U.N. member states to establish policies that will make the world a better place over the next 15 years.

At least one SDG is turning out to be a bit controversial.

This particular goal calls for a reduction in “premature mortality” from non-communicable diseases like cancer, stroke and dementia by half in people younger than 50 and by a third among people from 50 to 69.

What about people over 70? Shouldn’t they get a shout-out?

Welcome to the under/over 70 debate.

Last week, British researchers wrote a letter in the The Lancet, accusing the “premature mortality” SDG of being “ageist.”

“Imagine countries that are influenced by U.N. targets — low- and middle- income countries,” says Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, a professor of social policy and international development at the University of East Anglia and co-author of the letter. “They would have to take resources away from people 70 and above [to accomplish this SDG]. I just don’t quite get what’s going on.”

If Lloyd-Sherlock were in charge, he’d remove the phrase “premature mortality” as well as the age ranges. He’d use the phrase “age-specific mortality.” People in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s all have different rates of death, he says, and health officials should aim to reduce the death rate in each age group.

Prabhat Jha, an epidemiology professor at the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, thinks the critics are flat-out wrong. He co-authored the reply in The Lancet to the “ageist” letter.

Source: NPR (link opens in a new window)

Environment, Health Care