New statistics say people world-wide are living longer than ever. And people who read and have access to education live longest. According to a new 2015 World Health Organization report, Japanese live the longest, with an average life expectancy of 84, while Americans can expect to live to 77. At the same time, it is an obvious fact that some people live much longer than other people. There is inequality in mortality.
What explains this inequality?
Epidemiological research confirms what intuition suggests: lifestyle and education matters. A 2012 study published in Preventive Medicine followed over 8,000 people over a 5-year period. Risk of death by any cause was 56% lower for non-smokers, 47% lower for people who exercised, and 26% lower for those who had a healthy diet.
Italian researchers analyzed the diets of inhabitants of the Monti Sicani region of Sicily, where there is a remarkably high prevalence of people who live to be 100. Along with being physically active and having close contact with relatives, the centenarians surveyed were found to adhere to a traditional Mediterranean diet.
The indicators used in this 164 pg World Health Organization report (PDF) have been included on the basis of their relevance to global public health, on data availability and quality, and on the reliability and comparability of the resulting estimates. Taken together, these indicators provide a comprehensive summary of the current status of national health and health systems in the following nine areas:
- life expectancy and mortality
- cause-specific mortality and morbidity
- selected infectious diseases
- health service coverage
- risk factors
- health systems
- health expenditure
- health inequities
- demographic and socioeconomic statistics.
While the world-wide mortality rate has dropped on many levels and for a variety of reasons, the idea that we can live longer just by being smarter and better educated will be a comfort to some.