How long you live could depend on where you live

9 January 2015
Your life expectancy at birth depends in part on what country you live in. The good news is that, according to the Word Bank, Australia enjoys one of the highest life expectancies in the world, with those born in 2012 expected to live until 82 years of age on average. In fact there are only six countries with a higher life expectancy (83) at birth than Aussies; these are:
  • France
  • Hong Kong SAR, China
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Switzerland

Beyond these venerable borders, what is the current life expectancy at birth for some of our global neighbours?

USA – Current life expectancy at birth is 79. Despite unmatched wealth, United States citizens do not enjoy unmatched health. According to the USA?s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the single most common cause of deaths in America, causing almost 600,000 deaths per year. This is closely followed by cancer, with chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke third and fourth respectively. While heart disease can be caused by a hereditary condition, there are also a number of lifestyle factors that can play a part, including smoking, high total cholesterol,  being physically inactive and being overweight or obese.

New Zealand – Current life expectancy at birth is 81. Our close neighbours, New Zealanders are doing pretty well for themselves in regard to life expectancy, with steadily increasing lifespans and declining death rates across all ages. According to the Ministry of Health, the leading cause of death for all demographics is cardiovascular disease, followed by lung and breast cancer. Cardiovascular diseases currently account for 30% of deaths annually, but many of these deaths are premature and preventable. Diet and smoking are the two main contributing factors to heart disease in New Zealand.

China – Current life expectancy at birth is 75. Being the world?s largest consumer of tobacco products, it comes as no surprise that cancer is the leading cause of death in China. Nearly a third (28.1%) of the adult population currently smoke, and someone in China dies approximately every 30 seconds due to tobacco use. Heart disease has the second highest mortality rate in China, with one in five adults in China having a cardiovascular disease. This accounts for 20.9%/17.9% (urban/rural)  deaths in China per year.

Japan – Current life expectancy at birth is 83. Japan is obviously doing something right, having the highest life expectancy at birth of any Asian country. That being said, Japan does have significantly high numbers of people with cancer, with cancer having nearly double the mortality rate as the next most prominent cause of death (cardiac disease). Stomach cancer specifically is extremely prevalent in Japan due to certain aspects of the typical Japanese diet, including large amounts of salt, and lots of pickled/preserved foods. However it?s worth noting that compared to countries like North America that have extremely high rates of youth-based homicides, street and gang violence is practically non-existent in Japan, leading to extremely low rates of homicide among Japanese youth.

These are just examples from a small handful of our neighbours. There are plenty of others, including some with significantly lower life expectancies – such as Sierra Leone, with a life expectancy at birth of just 45 (due in part of a high rate of child and maternal morbidity as well as a high disease burden). There are in fact a number of African countries with life expectancies under 60.  You can check out the World Bank data for more information.

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