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Diseases of Afflfluence
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

The World Health Organization reports that over the next twenty years, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, tetanus and malaria will account for fewer deaths than will noninfectious diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Traffic fatalities will also account for an increasing percentage of deaths. The growing number of people who are affluent, eat rich foods, smoke and drive cars will push up the number of deaths from these causes.

Infectious diseases are associated with third world countries, while heart disease, stroke and diabetes are associated with wealthier, developed societies. As more countries modernize, the number of deaths caused by “diseases of affluence” will grow as well.

Dr. Ties Boerma, director of health statistics for the agency, said he had seen more obese people and more smokers in capitals around the developing world. According to the W.H.O report, tobacco companies are aggressively marketing to young people in poor countries. Almost a quarter of smokers started before age 10.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, this is something we can control. If people in our generation, in the main, become ill because of overindulgence and bad habits, that means that by controlling these habits people can live longer, healthier lives. This is a confirmation of the observation of Maimonides, who writes in Hilchot Deot that diseases are caused by improper diet and habits. If one would be careful to eat only the foods that are right for the body, so many illnesses could be prevented.

When asked what the role of doctors would be when Moshiach comes, the Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that their role will be in education and preventive medicine. We already have the tools to confront many of the diseases that were killers to our ancestors. We have an adequate food supply and ready access to clean, fresh water. We have immunizations or antibiotics to fight a host of infectious diseases. In fact, for the first time in history it is almost entirely in our hands whether we live in health or the opposite, G-d forbid.

There is also a parallel to this in a spiritual sense. For the first time in history, since our exile from Jerusalem, there is no country anywhere in the world that oppresses Jews for observing Judaism. Thanks to modern technology, anyone who wants to has almost unlimited access to Jewish books, lectures, information—whether in print, video, audio or through the internet. There is nothing to hold us back from living a full, healthy Jewish life. It is in our hands!

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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