The secret of a long life

How extending life expectancy may not be such a mystery after all

 

People in Ireland are living longer: the average lifespan here increased by a decade over the past 50 years, according to a research report in The Lancet. The study by Imperial College London and the World Health Organisation looked at expected lifespan in 35 industrial countries and, in the process, delivered a league table for national longevity. It showed that people from all of these countries – the list did not include underdeveloped nations – will have made longevity gains by 2030.

The study estimated lifespan for those born in that year. Top of the list was South Korea with its women likely to live for 90.8 years and men for 84.1 years. Ireland was in the comfortable upper-middle bracket with men living to 84 years (placing 8th in the table) and women to 87 years (14th). Macedonia and Serbia sat at the bottom of the women’s table with lifespans of less than 80. Serbia and Bulgaria were at the bottom of the men’s table with lifespans of less than 75.

So why might a country sit high on such a list while another performs demonstrably worse? For example, why does the US have one of the lowest life expectancy levels among the high-income countries, performing on a par with Croatia and Mexico rather than with its economic peers?

The reasons seem remarkably uncomplicated. The authors suggest that South Korea will perform so well because of good nutrition in childhood, low blood pressure, low levels of smoking, access to effective healthcare and a willingness to adopt new medical knowledge and technologies. Conversely the US population slides well down the list because of a lack of universal healthcare, high child and maternal mortality rates, a shocking number of homicides and widespread obesity. Some of these are also readily applied to countries further down the league table where life expectancy can be 15 years less than in South Korea.

This research suggests the recipe for a long life may not be such a mystery after all. Rankings appear to be an accurate reflection of lifestyle, cultural and societal factors, and of investment in, and access to, education and medical care.

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