New insight into countries’ state of health


A new scientific study of forecasts and alternative scenarios for life expectancy and major causes of death in 2040 shows all countries are likely to experience at least a slight increase in lifespans. In contrast, one scenario finds nearly half of all nations could face lower life expectancies.

The rankings of nations’ life expectancies offer new insights into their health status. China, with an average life expectancy of 76.3 years in 2016, could have an average life expectancy of 81.9 years by 2040.

In contrast, the USA in 2016 had an average lifespan of 78.7 years. In 2040, life expectancy is forecast to increase only to 79.8. The UK had a lifespan of 80.8 years in 2016 and is expected to increase to 83.3 in 2040.

The study published in The Lancet, projects a significant increase in deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease, and lung cancer, as well as worsening health outcomes linked to obesity.

In addition to China, several other nations are expected by 2040 to have increased substantially in terms of life expectancy, including Nigeria and Indonesia. Several high-income nations are forecast to have lower increases in age, including Canada, Norway, Taiwan, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

By 2040 the longest life spans are expected to be:

  • Spain 85.8
  • Japan 85.7
  • Singapore 85.4
  • Switzerland 85.2
  • Portugal 84.5
  • Italy 84.5
  • Israel 84.4
  • France 84.3
  • Luxembourg 84.1
  • Australia 84.1

Bottom-ranked nations include Lesotho, Swaziland, Central African Republic, and South Africa; with 75.3 years in South Africa and 45.3 years in Lesotho.

Over the next generation, 87 countries will experience a decline in life length, and 57 will see an increase of only a year. But health policy changes could see 158 countries see life expectancy gains of at least five years, while 46 nations may see gains of 10 years or more.

The future shift toward increased premature mortality from NCDs and injuries and away from communicable diseases is apparent by the changing proportions of the top 10 causes of premature death.

In 2016, four of the top 10 causes of premature mortality were NCDs or injuries; in contrast, in 2040, that number increases to eight. The eight NCD or injury causes in the top ten in 2040 are expected to be heart disease, stroke, COPD, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, road injuries, and lung cancer.

In addition to calling attention to the growing importance of NCDs, the analysis exposes a substantial risk of HIV/AIDS mortality rebounding, which could undo recent life expectancy gains in several nations in sub-Saharan Africa.

While NCDs are projected to rise in many low-income countries, communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases are likely to remain among the leading causes of early death.



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