Spain is on course to overtake Japan in life expectancy by 2040 while the United States continues to slide down the rankings.
According to a recent comprehensive study on the global burden of disease people are living longer in Spain mainly due to what they eat.
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, the biggest threats to living a long life are obesity, high blood pressure, blood sugar, tobacco use and drinking alcohol.
“Spain does really well in those,” said Dr Christopher Murray, director of the IHME at the University of Washington, “although tobacco is an area where they could be better. But current life expectancy is very good.” The Spanish, who are expected to have an average lifespan of 85.8 years, do particularly well in terms of diet, he said.
Japan, which has for many years enjoyed the highest life expectancy on the planet, is set to lose its crown, according to the Global Burden of Disease study published online by the IHME and in the Lancet medical journal, with an average lifespan just slightly behind at 85.7 years. “Men are not doing so well,” said Murray. “Smoking is probably part of that and obesity has gone up for men but really not for women.”
The data collected ranks 195 counties for the most likely life expectancy and health outcomes as well as the worst-case scenarios.
“In my mind, the difference between better and worse outcomes is what governments and the global community could achieve,” said Murray. The data demonstrate what will happen if policies are adopted that drive down smoking, improve the supply of clean water, reduce obesity or tackle air pollution.
While this is good news for Spain and their Mediterranean diet people in the United States aren’t faring as well with the country dropping 20 places, from 43rd to 64th.
The US has been tumbling down the life expectancy league for a while, said Murray, worsened recently by the impact of deaths linked to the opioid crisis. “We really see this slowing down of progress. There is a whole literature about why the US has been progressively underperforming compared to Europe,” he said. There was nothing in the trends to suggest this would change. On the really big causes of death, such as heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and injuries, “the trends are not as favourable as what we are seeing in Australia, New Zealand or Western Europe.”