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22nd February 2017

Life expectancy to reach 90 for the first time

A study published by The Lancet shows that in many countries, average life expectancy will increase significantly by 2030, exceeding 90 for the first time in South Korea. This trend will be slower in the USA, however – due to obesity, homicides and lack of equal access to healthcare.

 

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Life expectancies in developed countries are projected to continue increasing, with women's life expectancy surpassing 90 in South Korea by 2030, according to a study published in The Lancet.

The study predicts life expectancy is likely to be highest in South Korea (90.8), France (88.6) and Japan (88.4) for women, and in South Korea (84.1), Australia (84.0) and Switzerland (84.0) for men.

The researchers emphasise that people living longer will have major implications for health and social services. Countries will need to adapt and have policies to support healthy aging, increase investment in health and social care, and possibly change their retirement ages.

"As recently as the turn of the century, many researchers believed that life expectancy would never surpass 90 years," said Professor Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London, the study's lead author. "Our predictions of increasing lifespans highlight our public health and healthcare successes. However, it is important that policies to support the growing older population are in place. In particular, we will need to both strengthen our health and social care systems and to establish alternative models of care, such as technology-assisted home care."

 

home elderly care robot
"Care-O-bot". Credit: Kniff Projektagentur GbR / Fraunhofer IPA

 

Although life expectancy is predicted to increase for all 35 countries in the study, the extent of the increase varies from place to place. Comparing 2010 and 2030, female life expectancy will increase most in South Korea, Slovenia and Portugal (6.6, 4.7 and 4.4 years, respectively). For men, life expectancy will increase most in Hungary, South Korea and Slovenia (7.5, 7.0 and 6.4 years).

Life expectancy is predicted to increase least in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Japan and the USA (1.4, 1.5, 1.8 and 2.1 years) for women, and in Macedonia, Greece, Sweden and the USA (2.4, 2.7, 3.0 and 3.0 years) for men.

The USA is predicted to see relatively small improvements (from 81.2 in 2010, to 83.3 in 2030 for women; and 76.5 to 79.5 for men). Its life expectancy is already lower than most other high-income nations, and is expected to fall further behind in 2030 – mainly a result of its large inequalities, absence of universal health care and having the highest homicide rate, body mass index (BMI) and death rates for children and mothers of all high-income nations.

Conversely, South Korea's projected gains will be the result of continued improvements in economic status, improved nutrition for children, access to healthcare and medical technology across the whole population. This results in fewer deaths from infections and better prevention and treatment for chronic diseases, in a way that is more equitable than some Western countries.

The research also indicates that the gap in life expectancy between men and women is closing, as Professor Ezzati explains: "Men traditionally had unhealthier lifestyles, and so shorter life expectancies. They smoked and drank more, and had more road traffic accidents and homicides. However as lifestyles become more similar between men and women, so does their longevity."

"We repeatedly hear that improvements in human longevity are about to come to an end," he continues. "Many people used to believe that 90 years is the upper limit for life expectancy – but this research suggests we will break the 90 year barrier. I don't believe we're anywhere near the upper limit of life expectancy, if there even is one."

The researchers explain that the next step of their research will be to extend their model to specific diseases, as well as to all countries to provide more accurate predictions of life expectancy globally. They are careful to note that their study cannot take into account unprecedented events – such as revolutionary advances in medicine, the potentially disastrous effects of climate change, or political upheaval that may affect social and health systems.

 

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