U.S. Life Expectancy Scores Poorly in 2030 Projections

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Researchers predict that average life expectancy will increase around the globe in coming years but that the U.S. will continue to lag behind other wealthy nations.

By 2030, life expectancy will rise in all 35 countries that the researchers assessed, which would increase today’s highest life expectancy of 86.7 years, according to a new study in The Lancet.

As far as longevity goes, top honors go to women in South Korea, who, as a group, are expected to have the longest lives — with a projection of nearly 91 years by 2030.

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That’s more than eight years longer than researchers expect women in the U.S. to live on average — at 83.3 years — in the same year. Men in the U.S. are expected to live 79.5 years. Both numbers are an improvement from 2010, which saw U.S. women living 81.2 years and U.S. men living 76.5 years on average.

Overall, however, the U.S. ranks last among high-income countries in projected life expectancy rates and ranks closer to less wealthy countries, such as Croatia, the Czech Republic and Mexico. Of the 35 countries assessed, the U.S. ranks 27th in projected life expectancy for both women and men by the year 2030.

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The researchers noted that among high-income countries, the U.S. has the highest rates of infant mortality, homicide and obesity. Despite the poor expectations in the U.S., the new study has researchers optimistic about the prospects of healthier aging around the globe and what that means for human aging in general.

“We repeatedly hear that improvements in human longevity are about to come to an end,” said study author Majid Ezzati, a professor with the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. “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.”

Men Are Poised to Close the Gap

Researchers expect life expectancy for women in France, Japan and Spain to exceed 88 years on average by 2030. Among men, South Korea and Australia are projected to lead the way, with a life expectancy of more than 84 years.

In all countries, women currently have a higher life expectancy than men. For example, in New Zealand, women live about four years longer than men on average, and in Poland the gap is more than eight years.

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“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,” said Ezzati.

Researchers are finding that “the female advantage will shrink by 2030” in most countries, including the U.S. In only four countries are women expected to continue holding the same or better longevity advantage.

Given the upward aging curve, the researchers believe the new study holds important public health implications.

“The fact that we will continue to live longer means we need to think about strengthening the health and social care systems to support an ageing population with multiple health needs,” said Ezzati. “This is the opposite of what is being done in the era of austerity. We also need to think about whether current pension systems will support us, or if we need to consider working into later life.”

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Richard Scott

Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.