Two stories in the past week remind us that health is one of the things that consistently shows the limits of affluent societies. The first is data which show that the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions have doubled in ten years. The second is a report from several charities which says that obesity strongly increases the risks of contracting dementia.

The alcohol data comes from the Information Centre, which is an independent agency which provides official health and social care statistics. In 2005/06, there were 187,640 NHS hospital admissions among adults aged 16 and over with either a primary or secondary diagnosis specifically related to alcohol. This has increased from 89,280 in 1995/96. Since 1980, alcohol has become much more affordable as incomes have risen. Despite increased consumption, it accounted for 5.2 per cent of household spending in 2005 compared with 7.5 per cent in 1980.

On dementia, the report (news report here), produced by the Alzheimer’s Society together with the British Heart Foundation and the Stroke Association, says that numbers affected will rise from the current 700,000 to 1m in 15-20 years. This isn’t just a ‘scare’; if you are obese at age 60, according to their research, you are twice as likely to suffer from dementia at 75. The spiralling numbers of the childhood obese represent a significant long-term risk. But people can reduce their personal risk of getting dementia fairly significantly through lifestyle changes – principally exercise.