May 30, 2023

Athens News

News in English from Greece

What determines the duration of a healthy life, and what can shorten it

Life expectancy has increased throughout the world over the past century, thanks to advances in health and medicine, as well as improved levels of education and quality of life.

According to the UN, there are more than half a million people over the age of 100 internationally. But healthy life expectancy is probably the best indicator of what people really want. This number of years a person can live in good health is not an objective yardstick, as the underlying data are based on current health and mortality rates, not projections.

  • First, according to a study conducted in 195 countries between 1995 and 2017, although the rate of healthy aging is increasing worldwide, it has not kept pace with the increase in overall life expectancy, the Financial Times notes.
  • Second, women may live longer than men, but the number of years they can expect to be in good health is the same. In the European Union, for example, women’s life expectancy in 2020 was on average 5.7 years longer than men’s, but the difference in healthy life expectancy was only one year.
  • Third, as with overall life expectancy, the correlation between healthy life expectancy and GDP per capita becomes quite elusive once countries pass a certain level of development. For example, Greece and Germany have similar healthy life expectancy, although Germany has a more developed economy and richer people.

There are also some stark differences between neighboring countries. In 2020, a person born in Finland or Denmark can expect to live 74% of their life without health restrictions, a significant decrease from the 90% offered in Sweden.

Cultural factors also play a role: for example, the Mediterranean diet in Greece (+) or the heavy drinking in Finland (-).

In the UK, which was in the middle of the countries before Brexit EU, things are not so radiant. In the years before the pandemic, healthy life expectancy did not change for men, staying at 62.9 years, and began to decrease slightly for women, strengthening at 63.3 years. The differences between rich and poor are also huge.

In England, healthy life expectancy at birth for women in the most disadvantaged areas is 51.4 years compared to 71.2 years for women in the least disadvantaged areas.

There are many possible causes of health deterioration with age: from obesity problems and alcohol abuse to the effects of post-2010 public spending cuts and the wider effects of a decade without real wage growth.

The UK government has set itself an ambitious goal: by 2035 Increase healthy life expectancy by five years. Such rapid improvements are possible: the rate increased by four years in the first decade of the millennium. But it was a time of sustained economic growth and increased social spending.

While it’s hard to imagine that the next decade will be as “velvet” as the previous one, here is the question.

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