but given that two hundred years ago your life expectancy would have been around 40 years, drastic action is hardly called for.
It was NOT. You are misinformed. The average life expectancy may have been in 30-40 range, but it was caused by childhood mortality. For anyone who survived birth and early childhood, life expectancy was much, much higher.
As per Wikipedia (here), even in Upper Paleolithic era, life expectancy at birth was 32, but for anyone who reached the age of 15 life expectancy was already at 54 instead.