Global life expectancy trends

I saw this Robert Krulwich article on NPR yesterday. Essentially, Americans are “falling behind” in the getting older race, although no one can truly predict the pattern; obviously Americans have some health issues at the general level, i.e. diabetes, but that isn’t even a satisfactory explainer in this case. Japanese women are living to be about 86; American women are living to be about 80.2. On the male side, Aussies are leading the world at 79.27, and American males are shuffling off this mortal coil at 75.64. One interesting thing on the female side, as noted in this report, is that from 55-75, American females have a higher rate of death than those in other developed countries — but at 75, they become “competitive” again.

This was all pretty relevant to me as I started writing this post, because my aunt died a few weeks ago at just north of 60; my parents are 72 (father) and 69 (but soon to be 70). I have no real idea about the logistics or planning of these situations, and I don’t necessarily think I’ll be thinking about it today or tomorrow, either. It really is something that makes you think about the whole arc and context of life, though (I suppose that was a fairly obvious statement).

Here’s the Wiki on life expectancy by country (also broken down by gender); this gives you the 2011 World Health Organization data and the 2005-2010 United Nations data. Interestingly, on the WHO side, Qatar has the most longevity for men, but No. 35 for women; Japan is No. 1 for women, but No. 12 for women. The Qatar gap isn’t completely explained here, but it should be noted that their baby survival rate is on par with some of the most industrialized nations in the world; for better or worse, that’s a sign of a strong health system. As you would expect, the gap between rich and poor women is growing world-wide (a similar trend is happening with men).

You need to keep the key factors affecting life expectancy in context when thinking about the data; pretty much the bottom 20 countries in the WHO study are all within Africa. In Africa, an increase in premature death over the past two decades has brought down the overall life expectancy. The other notable factors are control of infectious diseases, diet, sanitation, health care, public health campaigns, etc. I actually wanted to see if daily protein intake overlaid to an extent with life expectancy; check out this protein map and you can see that, well, the answer is not really. Japan, Switzerland and Qatar all consume less protein by a relatively significant amount than the U.S. does, but expectancies are higher in all those countries. Also interesting: unless I’m color-blind, which I may well be, protein consumption is on par in Australia and the U.S. I had no idea.

Being a U.S. citizen and all, I wanted to check life expectancy by state, especially because this Prudential ad has resonated with me since it first dropped:

Here’s a Wiki list on that topic; the gap is obviously far narrower. It’s about seven years between Hawaii and Mississippi; on the global level, you can be talking about 40 years between the top country for women and the bottom country for women. This report breaks the U.S. down by gender in terms of number of healthy years past 65; females tend to have more, and the differences range from a 0.7 gap (Louisiana) to a 3.1 gap (Dakotas). This chart just does it straight ol’ two-column: male and female, by state; and this chart is by race/ethnicity. 

I’m not sure what all these stats are supposed to tell you. I know this probably sounds trite, especially since I’m not really a very religious person, but in the grand scheme of discussions like this, I kind of do believe that God has a plan for individuals. It’s entirely possible that a healthy person can get hit by a bus, or that someone who smoked three packs a day for a while can live into their 70s (see Cheney, Dick). Sometimes, there isn’t rhyme or reason on specific examples; on generalizable examples, though, we clearly need to be finding ways to pump more money into health care for African countries. 

This whole thing is contextually super interesting because what if medicine got to the point where we could live a turtle-esque existence of 150-200 years? What would that do to the family unit? Would we essentially have two major marriages, or would there be 120-year couples like there are 50-year couples today?

I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t end with this video from Hans Rosling about life expectancy stats. It’s probably one of the most amazing TED Talks I’ve ever seen:

Ted Bauer

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