Published: Sun, February 26, 2017
Medicine | By Daryl Nelson

Living to 90 will be the new norm

Living to 90 will be the new norm

Life expectancy at birth will continue to climb substantially for residents of industrialized nations - but not in the United States, where minimal gains will soon put life spans on par with those in Mexico and the Czech Republic, according to an extensive analysis released Tuesday.

Not so in the United States.

In 2015, research by Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton brought worldwide attention to the unexpected jump in mortality rates among white middle-aged Americans.

The nation's rapid improvement in life expectancy - the country was ranked twenty-ninth for women in 1985 - is probably down to overall improvements in economic status and child nutrition, the study notes, among other factors.

"As recently as the turn of the century, many researchers believed that life expectancy would never surpass 90 years", said the lead author Prof Majid Ezzati, of Imperial College London.

It now has the highest life expectancy for women, but will be overtaken by both South Korea and France, the study suggests.

For men, the three countries with the highest life expectancy are South Korea, Australia and Switzerland. Women's life expectancy in the United Kingdom was projected to be 85 years in 2030 and 83 for women in the US.

Scientists are predicting that we'll live longer.

Countries are listed by median projected increase in life expectancy, largest to smallest, from 2010 to 2030.

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The Lancet study is, of course, a modeling exercise, and unforeseen events like an epidemic will affect the numbers.

As we've reported, there's already a widening health disparity in the USA - the outlier among rich nations in that it doesn't offer its citizens universal health care.

The UK is 21st in the league table for women, with a predicted life expectancy at birth in 2030 of 85.2 years, and 14th for men, whose life expectancy is predicted to be 82.5 years. During that time, deaths from alcohol, drug use and mental health disorders have risen dramatically in many parts of the country, while progress on heart disease has been stalling.

"They still have relatively high rates of young and middle-age mortality", Ezzati reportedly said, referring to the countries with lower life expectancies.

The big winners are South Korea, some western European countries, and some emerging economies. In 1960, the life expectancy for the average South Korean was only 53 years. Girls born in the country that year can expect to live, on average, to almost 91, and boys to 84, the highest in the world for both sexes (see 'Ageing populations').

The major reasons for the gains in South Korea - like most rich countries - have been reductions in infant mortality, and cardiovascular diseases (particularly stroke) as well as declines in stomach cancers.

"We repeatedly hear that improvements in human longevity are about to come to an end".

"[Society in the U.S. is] very unequal to an extent the whole national performance is affected - it is the only country without universal health insurance". Unlike the US, "South Korea is very equitable, all the way across the population", he added. In effect, that means that the average South Korean will live for six more years than the average American at that point. For all its wealth over the last century, the U.S. still hasn't cracked health.

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