Life Expectancy: The Most Important Measure of Health
Life expectancy is perhaps the most important measure of health. It is readily comparable across countries and asks the most fundamental question concerning health: how long can the typical person expect to live?
Life expectancy increases due to healthcare improvements like the introduction of vaccines, the development of drugs or positive behavior changes like the reduction in smoking or drinking rates. During the 20th century, the average lifespan in the United States increased by more than 30 years as the rates of infectious diseases declined.
Which countries have the longest life expectancies? Japan’s life expectancy is nearly 83 years with European countries like Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, and others such as Israel and Australia only a year or two behind. Japan’s relative advantage is related to not only genetics but also its universal health care system, generally better diet and low levels of inequality.
Unfortunately, the United States is a very different story; it has a life expectancy of around 78 years, comparable to Cuba and the near bottom of many developed countries. The few countries that lag behind the United States (Czech Republic, Poland, Mexico, Slovak Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Turkey) all have vastly lower measures of wealth. In 2000, the World Health Organization rated the United States’ health system as 37th in the world, below middle income countries such as Columbia, Costa Rica, and Chile.
It is remarkable that American’s pay 2-5 times more for healthcare than most developed countries while having one of the shortest life expectancies. If you think of health expenditures as an investment, with longevity as the return on investment, then we can say that the United States receives a much lower return on its investment than other wealthy countries.
What individuals can do to rise above the fairly dismal statistics on life and health is to invest the time, energy, and money that make health a very high priority. In general many wait until they lose their health and then try and regain it again. But that’s tough to do. Instead, people should do everything they can to stay vital and active with a clear mind forever. The 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s PreventionTM - consisting of nutrition, exercise, stress management and pharmaceuticals - is a good way to raise your life expectancy, and your brain longevity. And it’s never too late to start.
Dharma S. Khalsa, M.D., is President and Medical Director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Arizona. The ARPF is dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s disease and finding a cure through research and prevention. Dr. Khalsa wrote about Alzheimer’s for HealthCentral.