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Life Expectancy

The term life expectancy is used to describe the average life span of an individual. Life expectancy can vary considerably in different areas of the world. Compared to other advanced countries, for example, people in the United States "die earlier and spend more time disabled" (WHO, 2000). Factors that affect life expectancy in the United States include: (1) the HIV epidemic, (2) cancers relating to tobacco, (3) high rates of coronary heart disease, (4) poor health among minority groups living in rural areas, and (5) high levels of violence.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the Japanese have the longest healthy life expectancy (74.5) among 191 countries the organization examined in 2000. In contrast, the shortest life expectancy (26 years) exists among the people of Sierra Leone. These figures were based on a new method of calculating healthy life expectancy called Disability Adjusted Life Expectancy (DALE), which was developed by the WHO. DALE summarizes the expected number of years to be lived in adequate health, rather than just the expected number of years lived.

According to DALE the United States ranks twenty-fourth, with an average life expectancy of 70.0 years for babies born in 1999. (Examined by gender, U.S. female babies in 1999 could expect 72.6 years of life, while male babies could expect only 67.5 years.) Life expectancy based on DALE for other countries are: Australia, 73.2 years; France, 73.1; Sweden, 73.0; Spain, 72.8; Italy, 72.7; Greece, 72.5; Switzerland, 72.5; Monaco, 72.4; and Andorra, 72.3.

The world's average life expectancy at birth rose to 67 years in 1998 (from 61 years in 1980). Although individual countries vary in average life-span years, the average number of years has increased due to increases in intake of nutritious food, primary health care (including safe water, sanitation, and immunizations), and education.

Daphne C. Watkins

Internet Resources

World Bank. "Life Expectancy." Available from <http://www.worldbank.org/depweb/english/modules>

World Health Organization (2000). "Japan Number One in New 'Healthy Life' System." Available from <http://www.int/inf-pr-2000/en/pr2000-life.html>

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