Global life expectancy rises again, but new challenges loom

Thu May 15, 2014 3:30pm EDT
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By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - Average life expectancy has risen globally to 73 years for a girl born in 2012 and 68 for a boy following successes in fighting diseases and child mortality, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

Big advances in the battles against infectious diseases such as measles, malaria, tuberculosis and polio have continued to extend life expectancy although other factors, such as people's lifestyles, are constraining longevity, the WHO said in its annual statistics report.

The longest life expectancy at birth is for baby girls in Japan, at 87.0 years, and boys in Iceland, at 81.2 years. Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Italy and Luxembourg rank in the top 10 for both sexes.

"There are major gains in life expectancy in recent decades and they continue," said Ties Boerma, chief of statistics and information systems at the WHO.

The lowest life expectancy is in sub-Saharan Africa, where nine countries have expectancy of less than 55 for babies of both sexes.

Lifestyle changes leading to heart problems and other diseases were curbing life expectancy in some cases.

"We're seeing a health transition from success in infectious diseases to more people dying, including at younger ages, from non-communicable diseases," said Boerma.

However, even in the rich countries where people live longest, there is no sign of life expectancy gains slowing down.   Continued...

An elderly couple sits on a bench on the peak of Mount Hochwacht (988 metres/3241 ft) as high fog covers the landscape around the Swiss town of Zug November 20, 2012. Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann