Health Statistics

Health Statistics

Recent History

June 10, 1772

Samuel Hearne

A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772


As to the persons of the Northern Indians, they are in general above the middle size; well-proportioned, strong, and robust, but not corpulent.

As to the persons of the Northern Indians, they are in general above the middle size; well-proportioned, strong, and robust, but not corpulent. They do not possess that activity of body, and liveliness of disposition, which are so commonly met with among the other tribes of Indians who inhabit the West coast of Hudson's Bay.

Their complexion is somewhat of the copper cast, inclining rather toward a dingy brown; and their hair, like all the other tribes in India, is black, strong, and straight. I have seen several of the Southern Indian men who were near six feet high, preserve a single lock of their hair, that, when let down, would trail on the ground as they walked. This, however, is but seldom seen; and some have suspected it to be false: but I have examined the hair of several of them, and found it to be real.

Few of the men have any beard; this seldom makes its appearance till they are arrived at middle-age, and then is by no means equal in quantity to what is observed on the faces of the generality of Europeans; the little they have, however, is exceedingly strong and bristly. Some of them take but little pains to eradicate their beards, though it is considered as very unbecoming; and those who do, have no other method than that of pulling it out by the roots between their fingers and the edge of a blunt knife. Neither sex have any hair under their armpits, and very little on any other part of the body, particularly the women; but on the place where Nature plants the hair, I never knew them attempt to eradicate it.

Their features are peculiar, and different from any other tribe in those parts; for they have very low foreheads, small eyes, high cheek-bones, Roman noses, full cheeks, and in general long broad chins. Though few of either sex are exempt from this national set of features, yet Nature seems to be more strict in her observance of it among the females, as they seldom vary so much as the men. Their skins are soft, smooth, and polished; and when they are dressed in clean clothing, they are as free from an offensive smell as any of the human race.

Every tribe of Northern Indians, as well as the Copper and Dog-ribbed Indians, have three or four parallel black strokes marked on each cheek; which is performed by entering an awl or needle under the skin, and, on drawing it out again, immediately rubbing powdered charcoal into the wound

January 2, 1836

Superintendent Peacock's letter is dated at Happy Valley, Labrador, March 25, 1959


Further evidence of old age Labrador Eskimos exists.

 On receiving Professor Laughlin's letters, I sent copies of them along to Superintendent the Reverend F. W. Peacock, M.A., Moravian Mission, Labrador. His records go back well toward 1771, the founding date of the mission; and there are several stations. Knowing that I had available only limited comparison figures for the Aleutians, he sent me only records from his Hopedale community and covering only the same years as Veniaminov's. 

Superintendent Peacock's letter is dated at Happy Valley, Labrador, March 25, 1959:

“Upon receipt of your letter I went to the records of the Hopedale [mission] from 1822-36. I discovered that 

110 people were born during this period ... 

29 died before reaching the age of 10 years; 

9 died between the ages of 11 and 15; 

4 between the ages of 16 and 20; 

6 between 21 and 25; 

7 between 26 and 30; 

10 between 31 and 35; 

4 between 36 and 40; 

8 between 41 and 45; 

2 between 46 and 50; 

10 between 51 and 55; 

4 between 56 and 60; 

4 between 61 and 65; 

8 between 66 and 70; 

4 between 71 and 75; 

1 reached the age of 79.

“From 1860 to 1879 there were 150 births in the same district, of which number 79 died before they were 5 years old, and a further 10 before they were 10 years old. Another 30 died before they were 60 years old; 30 died between the ages of 61 and 82. One is still living at the age of 81 [in March 1959] ...”

We have examined, then, the mortality records of 1822-36 for 1,170 cases from Alaska and 110 from Labrador. The base line of our immediate concern we shall take at 60, because of the assertion that “a primitive Eskimo over the age of 50 is a great rarity.”

According to our Russian information on 1,170 Aleutian Eskimo births, 46 died in the decade immediately past 60, 34 in the one past 70, 20 in the one past 80, and only 2 lived past 90.

According to our Moravian information on 110 Labrador Eskimo births, 8 died in the decade next past 60 and 5 in the one next past 70, only one of these reaching 79.

Thus the most nearly “primitive” sample group I was able to obtain does not support Dr. Keys very strongly in his contention that “a primitive Eskimo over the age of 50 is a great rarity.” Nor does it quite confirm Dr. Greist's statement that “the Eskimo of the North ... lived to a very great age.” More nearly do the largely non-Europeanized natives of Veniaminov and Peacock accord with the Biblical: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten ..

January 1, 1890

Seventeen Years among the Eskimos


The Eskimo of the far North was healthy and lived to a very great age.


When Dr. John Simpson published the account of a two-year study in northern Alaska in 1855, he put his finger on a statistical difficulty when he said of primitive Eskimos that they “take no heed to number the years as they pass.”

At Point Barrow, a statistically valuable numbering was begun in the 1890's through missionary recording of births. The tally has established that in northern Alaska long life is not common. This, along with similar twentieth century statistical results from other northern fields, has strengthened two sets of convictions — the convictions of the frontier doctors and the convictions of their critics.

The medical missionaries, already committed to the opinion that primitive Eskimos were long-lived, see in the up-to-date figures confirmation of what they believe themselves to have observed, that Europeanization breaks down formerly good native health and thus tends to shorten life. But the critics of the missionaries, who always disbelieved what to them was a baseless legend, see in these first available statistics proof that the frontier doctors of the nineteenth century were deluded, and that primitive Eskimos were never either healthy or long-lived. I shall quote statements by a typical frontier doctor and one by a typical critic.

On behalf of the medical missionaries, and the rest of the frontiersmen, let Dr. Henry Greist speak (from Seventeen Years among the Eskimos, previously quoted at greater length): “For untold centuries ... the Eskimo of the far North was healthy ... He lived to a very great age.”

August 2, 1893

Elliott P. Joslin

Dr. Joslin Makes First Entry in Diabetic Ledger


Dr Joslin begins a ledger on diabetes after meeting a frail young Irish girl named Mary Higgins who was suffering from Type 1 Diabetes. He prescribed a low carb diet and recorded all of his cases over his entire career in his ledger.

On this day in 1893, a student at Harvard Medical School made the first entry in a ledger he would keep for the rest of his long career. Elliott Joslin examined a frail young Irish girl, who was suffering from diabetes. Long before he became one of the world's leading authorities on diabetes, he understood the importance of careful documentation. Keen observation of his patients helped him develop a novel approach to the treatment of diabetes. He prescribed a strict diet that regulated blood sugar levels and helped patients manage their own care. The introduction of insulin in 1921 confirmed the effectiveness of Joslin's approach. Elliott Joslin saw 15 patients a day until a week before his death in 1962, at age 93.

Unlike many other men who made Boston a center of medical innovation, Elliott Joslin was born in Massachusetts — in the town of Oxford, 40 miles west of Boston. The son of a wealthy shoe manufacturer, Elliott was an unusually focused, driven young man. He attended Yale College, graduated at the top of his Harvard Medical School class, and served an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital. After additional study in Europe, he returned to Boston in 1898 and opened a private office in the house his father had bought in the Back Bay.

Although Joslin had been interested in diabetes since medical school, he began his career as a general practitioner. Physicians who specialized in one particular disease were still rare in American medicine, and it would be almost 20 years before Elliott Joslin emerged as one of the most influential people in the study and treatment of diabetes.

Mary Higgins's case sparked his interest and convinced him of the need to chart in detail the course of a patient's illness. Joslin began keeping a diabetic ledger in 1893; Mary Higgins was the first entry in the first volume. He documented every patient he treated for the next 70 years. Eventually, his ledgers filled 80 volumes and became the central registry for diabetes in the United States, the first system for recording patient diabetes data outside of Europe.

January 1, 1912

Samuel King Hutton

Among the Labrador Eskimos


I have seen how the natives degenerate when they take to European food. They lose their natural coating of fat to a great extent, and need more clothing to withstand the cold ; they become less robust, less able to endure fatigue, and their children are puny. When a sick man came to hospital I told his friends "You may bring Eskimo foods for him"

One of the greatest problems that presented itself in those early days of Okak Hospital was the problem of food. So often the people had said "We are Eskimos — we are different from Europeans" that I felt certain, that there was a great truth in it. The missionaries have done the people a good service in persuading them to remain Eskimos in their food and clothing: there has been no attempt to force European ways upon them; and I am convinced of the wisdom of this attitude because I have seen how the natives degenerate when they take to European food. They lose their natural coating of fat to a great extent, and need more clothing to withstand the cold; they become less robust, less able to endure fatigue, and their children are puny. 

Perhaps it is their great tendency to imitate that explains why, at the more southern of the stations, where English-speaking settlers live among the people at their vUlages, the Eskimos are not so fine physically as those living in the north. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: and so I tackled the feeding problem. When a sick man came to hospital I told his friends "You may bring Eskimo foods for him," and they hailed the suggestion with delight. I found them a little shy, at first, of letting me know what Eskimo foods really were. I knew from hearsay that seal meat and codfish are the staple things; and for a while the sick folks were supplied with those: but presently friends began quietly to bring other things —Eskimo dainties, I might call them. I went into a ward one day, and found a woman sitting up in bed sucking and chewing at a pile of raw fish-heads — which she hastily set aside when she saw me. Presently she took them up again and fell to with the remark, uttered with a shy smile, "Mammadlarput ukkoa (these taste very good)." Another had a lot of what looked like dried dates, threaded on a string. This curious collection looked very like a necklace, and she kept it by her bedside, and picked one of the objects off to chew whenever the fancy seized her. They puzzled me for a time, until Juliana (who had made my skin clothes, and had now become our first Eskimo nurse) enlightened me. "These are trout-stomachs, dried in the open air"— a real Eskimo tit-bit. 

I might make a long list of the foods the people brought — seal meat raw, dried, boiled, fried, and even made into a stew with flour and giving forth a most appetising smell; the flesh of reindeer, foxes, bears, hues, sea-birds of all sorts; eggs of gulls, sea-pigeons and ptarmigan, the gull's eggs especially being sometimes in a half-hatched state, with great, awful looking eyes inside them; trout and cod and salmon; the boiled skin of the white whale and the walrus; raw reindeer lips and ears — these are only some of the peculiarly Eskimo dishes that passed before our eyes; to say nothing of attempts at European cookery, such as home-baked bread, sometimes grey and sodden, sometimes light and wholesome, so that we wondered how Eskimo hands and Eskimo stoves could bake so well; roasted dough, as hard as bricks, a concoction of flour and water baked on the top of a tiny iron stove; and even, on festal occasions, dough with currants. 

The list might be longer: as a matter of fact, about the only food the people did not bring to hospital was their great delicacy — rotten seal-flippers. I made the acquaintance of this remarkable item on the Eskimo menu when I was visiting in one of the houses on the hill. The people were grouped round a wooden tub which contained a pile of grey and slimy somethings; the smell that arose from the tub was subtle and evil. 

"What have you got?'' I asked them; and the head man of the household answered with the Eskimo word for "rotten." He held a flipper up for me to see, and shook his head with a smile as he said "You could not eat that; it would make you ill."

"Ahaila," said another man in the circle, "only strong people can eat rotten flippers. No good for sick people. Illdle, but we like them, and they do us good, but the people in the south have forgotten how to eat rotten flippers, and their stomachs have grown too weak. Mammadlarpulle (but they taste good)." 

How long those flippers had been soaking in that tub I did not find out, but they were assuredly gamey. 

And the man spoke a truth; the northern Eskimos are far more primitive in their food than are the southerners; and yet, all along the coast, they still keep to the staple diet of raw meat that earned for them in olden times the epithet "Eskimo —eater of raw flesh" which, as the story goes, the Indians hurled at them in derision. And without a doubt the raw foods suit their peculiar constitution the best. 

I found that the people refuse food so long as they feel acutely ill: their one cry is "Immilanga, immilanga (water, water)." As a consequence they waste away at an extraordinary rate; and after a few days of serious illness the qumdam plump and ruddy Eskimo is gaunt and haggard, with bony face and wrinkled skin; he seems to have grown old all of a sudden. But with the beginning of convalescence the feeding begins. So soon as the invalid loses his pains and his feeling of misery his appetite returns, and he devours immense quantities of meat and fish, washing them down with copious draughts of water. This fattening process is even more wonderful to watch than the wasting: the hollow cheeks fill out, wrinkles disappear, limbs grow round and plump again, and the face locks younger day by day. All sorts of food are welcome, but without a doubt the native foods are the foods that work the miracle. I have seen the people sitting up in bed, munching strip after strip of tough dried codfish and leathery nipko (dried reindeer meat), and dipping the strips between the bites into a cup of cod-liver oil kept handy for the purpose. I suppose the oil moistened the meat ; at any rate it gave it a proper Eskimo flavour — but it must be proper Eskimo oil. I thought to save trouble by getting a gallon of the real thing from the oil yard ; but no, the sick folks wanted it fresh and home made, and I besought their friends to bring them some. It came, the crude article, brown and nauseous, the result of frying Uvers over the stove in the family frying-pan ; and it was like honey to their palate. They dipped and chewed, and sucked and chewed and dipped again, and said "Piovok'' (it is good), "Ananak" (splendid). And I wondered, as I watched them eat, whether it was that same all-useful frying-pan that gave the subtle and indescribable flavour to all home-made Eskimo foods, a flavour that the people seemed to miss in the native cookery done in our hospital kitchen.

 But, after all, the raw foods suit them best, and they know it. I went into one of the huts during my first week in Okak, to see a young woman who was just recovering from a serious illness. The spectacle that greeted me when I opened the door was enough to alarm the bravest: there sat the woman on her bed, a gaunt and white-faced spectre, with her breast bare, and blood dripping from her mouth. I thought some dire catastrophe had happened. "Whatever is the matter?" I said. 

For a moment she was silent: she was shy: then she said "My husband has brought me home akkigivik (a partridge)," and she lifted her hands to her mouth again, and tore with gusto at the raw, warm flesh of the bird. When once their shyness was overcome there was no difficulty about feeding; some native food or other was always in season, and people were always willing to bring a share of what they had. There was genuine sacrifice— sacrifice, I mean, with the right motive behind it — in those gifts of meat. Men used to come with dishes and pots, containing lumps of raw flesh or samples of native cookery, and hand them over with a shy smile and a laconic ''for the sick folks." And, incidentally, it was over a matter of food that my friend Paulus showed me that the people had really grasped the meaning of those bedsteads that had puzzled Veronica. He came one day dangling a leg of reindeer meat, and handed it to me with a little speech. "I know,'' he said, ''that nipko is very good for the sick folks. They like it, and it gives them nukke (sinews). Take this meat, and have it made into nipko. No, I will not take it home, because if I do the meat will be eaten up. Keep it here, and have it dried; then you will have some good nipko for next winter, to give to the sick people if there are any."

Ancient History

Cairo, Cairo Governorate, Egypt



Cardiology in Ancient Egypt by Eugene V. Boisaubin, MD

Egyptians describe coronary ischemia: "if thou examinest a man for illness in his cardia and he has pains in his arms, and in his breast and in one side of his cardio... it is death threatening him."

The classic pattern of cardiac pain--radiation to the left arm--was so well known that the ancient Egyptians and Copts even identified the left ring finger as the "heart" finger.

Altogether, ancient Egyptians were aware of a variety of abnormal cardiac conditions, particularly of angina pectoris and sudden death, arrhythmia, aneurysm, congestive heart failure, and venous insufficiency. Numerous remedies for afflicitions of the heart are found throughout the Ebers payrus. 

There were a range of them using different foods, some even including carbohydrates like dates or honey and dough, but interesting, there is another combination of "fat flesh, incense, garlic, and writing fluid".

Extensive histologic analysis of mummies began, however; well before the development of the scanning electron microscope. In 1912, Shattock' made sections of the calcified aorta of Pharaoh Merneptah; and the work of Sir Marc Armand Rufer, published posthumously in 1921, is our most valuable early source of information about vascular disease in ancient Egyptians. Ruffer was able to study a relatively large number of tissue specimens from mummies, mainly from New Kingdom (1600-1100 BC) burials, but covering a wide period of time. In a mummy of the 28th to 30th Dynasty (404-343 BC), he observed atheromas in the common carotids and calcific atheromas in the left subclavian, common iliac, and more peripheral arteries. Ruffer concluded from the state of the costal cartilage that this mummy was not that of an old person. A mummy of a man of the Greek period (ca. 300 to 30 BC), who died at not over 50 years of age, showed atheromas of the aorta and brachial arteries. Since the discoveries of Rufer, numerous other mummies, whose ages at death ranged from the 4th to the 8th decade, have shown similar vascular changes (Fig.4).

In 1931, Long described a female mummy of the 21st Dynasty (1070-945 BC), found at Deir-el- Bahari-that of the lady Teye, who died at about 50 years of age. The heart showed calcification of one mitral cusp, and thickening and calcification of the coronary arteries. The myocardium is said to have had patchy fibrosis, and the aorta "nodular arteriosclerosis." The renal capsule was thickened, many of the glomeruli were fibrosed, and the medium-sized renal vessels were sclerotic. The condition appears to be that of hypertensive arteriosclerotic disease associated with atheromatous change. In the 1960s, Sandison examined and photographed mummy arteries using modern histologic methods (Fig.5). Arteries in the mummy tissues were described as tape-like, but could be dissected easily, whereupon arteriosclerosis, atheroma with lipid depositions, reduplication of the internal elastic lamina, and medial calcification were readily visible under microscopy.

Still more recently, one of the most extensively studied Egyptian mummies has been PUMIL from the Pennsylvania University Museum(hence its initials), now on loan to the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. It is believed to be from the later Ptolemaic period, circa 170BC. The heart and portions of an atherosclerotic aorta were found in the abdominal cavity. Histologically, large and small arterioles and arteries from other organs showed areas of intimal fibrous thickening typical of sclerosis. These findings are particularly striking since the estimated age of PUM I at time of death was between 35 and 40 years.


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