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Spain leads in global life expectancy, US continues to slide

Spain will overtake Japan’s long-held position at the top of the world’s life expectancy table by 2040, while the United States is set to take a big fall in rankings, new research finds.

According to the research Japan, Singapore, Spain, and Switzerland had a forecasted life expectancy exceeding 85 years for both sexes, and 59 countries including China were projected to surpass a life expectancy of 80 years by 2040.

At the same time, Central African Republic, Lesotho, Kenya, Somalia, and Zimbabwe had projected life expectancies below 65 years in 2040.

People in Spain will live for 85.8 years on average, marginally edging out expected lifespans in Japan (85.7), Singapore (85.4) and Switzerland (85.2).

The United States will take the biggest drop in ranking of all high-income countries, falling from 43rd in 2016 to 64th by 2040, with an average life expectancy of 79.8.

The US will be overtaken by China, which rises 29 places to 39th in the table.

Americans will live only 1.1 years longer on average in 2040 compared to 2016, well below the average global rise of 4.4 years over that same period.

“Whether we see significant progress or stagnation depends on how well or poorly health systems address key health drivers,” said Kyle Foreman, director of data science at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and lead author of the study.

“The future of the world’s health is not pre-ordained, and there is a wide range of plausible trajectories,” said Forman.

The findings add to a study last month which found that adhering to a Mediterranean diet can prolong people’s lives.

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Spain is one of several European countries to offer tax-funded healthcare, with their healthcare system ranked as the seventh best in the world by the World Health Organization.

Neighboring Portugal was the biggest riser in the top 20, forecasted to add 3.6 years to its average life expectancy and rising from 23rd to fifth. Italy moved up one spot from seventh to sixth.

The study, published in the journal Lancet on Tuesday, analyzed data from the 2016 Global Burden of Diseases project, to generate predictions from 2017 to 2040.

The impacts of diseases such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancers and non-communicable diseases (NCD) as well as risk factors including diet and smoking rates were taken into account by researchers at the IHME.

The factors which caused the most premature mortalities were high blood pressure, high body mass index, high blood sugar, tobacco use and alcohol use, the researchers said.

According to the new research, British people’s average lifespan will be 83.3 years (an increase of 2.5 years), Germans’ will be 83.2 (up by 2.3 years) and an average Australian will live until age 84.1, a rise of 1.6 years which keeps them in the overall top ten. Africa will have a lifespan of 62.5 years.

The main exception was sub-Saharan Africa, where many risks associated with poverty and lower levels of development such as unsafe water and sanitation, household air pollution, and child malnutrition were projected to still account for substantive disparities between reference and better health scenarios in 2040.

Syria is forecast to see the largest rise globally, adding more than 10 years to its average lifespan (to 78.6 years) and climbing from 137th to 80th, assuming its devastating civil war comes to an end.

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The top ten

Based on life expectancy forecast for 2040:
Spain (85.8 years)
Japan (85.7 years)
Singapore (85.4 years)
Switzerland (85.2 years)
Portugal (84.5 years)
Italy (84.5 years)
Israel (84.4 years)
France (84.3 years)
Luxembourg (84.1 years)
Australia (84.1 years)

US decline

The United States will take the biggest drop in ranking of all high-income countries based on the new study predictions and it currently has the lowest life expectancy among high-income countries.

Life expectancy in the US has dropped in each of the past two years, according to annual reports by the National Center for Health Statistics, representing the first multi-year drop since 1962 and 1963.

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