Historical evidence that electrification caused the 20th century epidemic of “diseases of civilization”

Historical evidence that electrification caused the 20th century epidemic of “diseases of civilization”


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Samuel Milhamnext termCorresponding Author Contact Information, a, E-mail The Corresponding Author

aWashington State Department of Health, Olympia, WA, USA

Received 14 August 2009;

accepted 18 August 2009.

Available online 11 September 2009.


The slow spread of residential electrification in the US in the first half of the 20th century from urban to rural areas resulted by 1940 in two large populations; urban populations, with nearly complete electrification and rural populations exposed to varying levels of electrification depending on the progress of electrification in their state. It took until 1956 for US farms to reach urban and rural non-farm electrification levels. Both populations were covered by the US vital registration system. US vital statistics tabulations and census records for 1920-1960, and historical US vital statistics documents were examined. Residential electrification data was available in the US census of population for 1930, 1940 and 1950. Crude urban and rural death rates were calculated, and death rates by state were correlated with electrification rates by state for urban and rural areas for 1940 white resident deaths. Urban death rates were much higher than rural rates for cardiovascular diseases, malignant diseases, diabetes and suicide in 1940. Rural death rates were significantly correlated with level of residential electric service by state for most causes examined. I hypothesize that the 20th century epidemic of the so called diseases of civilization including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and suicide was caused by electrification not by lifestyle. A large proportion of these diseases may therefore be preventable.

Article Outline

Evaluation of the hypothesis
All causes of death
All malignant neoplasms
Respiratory cancer
Breast cancer
Coronary artery disease and other heart disease
Motor vehicle accidents
Conflicts of interest statement

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