Five ways health care's changed since 'Mad Men'

How we've gotten smarter about our health habits

From the Daily Briefing editors

AMC's award-winning TV drama "Mad Men" returns on Sunday night, and as our Advisory Board infographic captures below, health care's dramatically changed since the 1960s depicted on the show. Mortality rates from many diseases are down, the percentage of women in the health workforce is up, but the most striking difference is around our personal health habits.

We've plucked out four examples of characters on the show acting in unhealthy ways, as well as one egregious case of questionable medical ethics. For those who have watched the show, please browse and tell us what we missed.

(And as a last-ditch reminder: These examples all involve considerable spoilers. Consider yourself warned)

1. Smoking, drinking takes the edge off of pregnancy: Smoking is exceedingly commonplace in "Mad Men"; this video purports to chart every cigarette smoked in the first three seasons.

But there's no more striking moment than in Season 3, when viewers watch Betty Draper light up while pregnant with her third child. A visibly pregnant Betty also is seen quaffing cocktails, as parents in the 1960s were unaware of the risk of fetal-alcohol syndrome.

2. Roger Sterling won't let a few heart attacks keep him from a good steak: Ad man Sterling is smoking a cigarette when he suffers his second heart attack of Season 1.  ("Not again," he grimaces in mid-puff.) But those back-to-back AMIs don't stop Sterling from eating, smoking, and drinking in subsequent episodes as though his cardiovascular health isn't an issue.

3. 'Exercise' is nonexistent: The biggest workout on "Mad Men"—outside of the energy spent chasing extramarital affairs—may be the effort to cover up those affairs. Unlike corporate TV dramas set in the present, no major character on "Mad Men" is ever depicted going for a jog or visiting the gym; the show's creator famously told the show's actresses to stop exercising in order to look more realistic for the period.

4. Doctor-patient confidentiality apparently doesn't apply to therapy: Don Draper regularly gets a rundown of his wife Betty's therapy sessions—from Betty's doctor. (She's emotionally immature, the doctor says at one point.)

5. Parents are concerned by children's anticsbut not why you'd think: In an early episode, Betty scolds her daughter for running around, wearing a plastic bag. Is she worried about asphyxiation?

Hardly; Betty's worried that something's happened to her nice clothes.


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