Special Report

Ten Countries Where People Live Longest

Life expectancy in the U.S. has risen in the past few decades. While in 1970 life expectancy at birth was 70.9 years, it rose to 78.7 year by 2011. However, most of the developed world is improving faster than this country. And despite the fact that the U.S. spends vastly more per capita on health care than any other country, Americans’ life expectancy is only 26th highest.

Earlier this month, the Organizations for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report highlighting the latest life expectancy figures for its 34 member nations as well as several other developed nations. According to the data, Switzerland had the highest life expectancy of any country measured, with residents born in the country in 2011 likely to live 82.8 years. Based on the OECD report, 24/7 Wall st. examined the countries with the highest life expectancy.

Click here to see the countries where people live the longest

As might be expected, residents in countries with higher life expectancy tend to be healthier. In six of the 10 countries, more than three quarters of adult residents surveyed in 2011 reported being in good health, compared to the OECD average of 69%. Residents of countries with high life expectancy also tend to have lower incidence of serious diseases and lower rates of death when they contract these illnesses. The majority of these countries have below-average rates of cancer mortality and diabetes.

Gaetan Lafortune, senior economist of the OECD’s health division, told 24/7 Wall St. in an email, “One of the main factors behind the big rise in life expectancy in OECD countries over the past 20 years or so has been the sharp decline in mortality from cardiovascular disease.”

Indeed, these countries also had lower rates of heart-related illnesses. Switzerland, which had the highest life expectancy, had the lowest rate of cerebrovascular disease mortality, which includes strokes, embolisms, and aneurysms. Japan, which had the second-highest life expectancy, had the lowest rates of deaths caused by ischemic heart disease, which leads to heart attacks.

While rates of cardiovascular disease are on the decline, obesity is reaching crisis proportions. “Obesity is becoming public health enemy number one in most OECD countries. Excess body weight is associated with increased overall mortality due to disorders such as cancer, diabetes, myocardial infarction and stroke,” Lafortune said. In fact, six of the countries with the longest life expectancy have among the lowest rates of obesity.

Of course, a low obesity rate is not necessarily a sign of good health for all countries. India, Indonesia and China had the three lowest rates of adult obesity. Residents in these developing countries also had among the lowest life expectancy in the world as measured by this report.

In countries where health care spending is very low, life expectancy tends to be far lower than most of the developed world. Indonesia and India both spent less than $200 per capita on health expenditure as of 2011. Both countries had an average life expectancy at birth of less than 70 years. Other nations that spent less than $1,000 per resident on health were China, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey. None had an average life expectancy of over 75 years — while the OECD average is 80 years. In South Africa, the average life expectancy is just 53 years.

However, high spending on health care is by no means a guarantee of a long life. Only three of the top 10 spenders per capita are in the top 10 for life expectancy. This is especially true for pharmaceutical spending. Just three of the nations where life expectancy at birth is longest are among the OECD’s 10 largest pharmaceutical spenders per capita.

Meanwhile, the U.S. spent $8,508 per capita on health care in 2011, more than $2,800 higher than the next country. The U.S. was 26th among the 40 countries measured by the OECD.

Affordability and access to care are major factors that may be leading these countries’ residents to longer lives. A high rate of health insurance coverage

While medical spending does not have a clear relationship with health or life expectancy, the availability of medical professionals does. In all but one of the 10 nations where residents live the longest, the number of doctors per 1,000 residents exceeded the average of 3.16. Italy, which had the second-highest life expectancy, had 4.1 doctors per 1,000 residents.

Residents, or governments, in these countries appear more likely to be able to afford health care. All but one of the 10 nations with the highest life expectancy at birth had a GDP per capita of at least $30,000 in 2011. None of the 10 with the lowest life expectancy had a GDP per capita higher than $25,000.

Based on data recently published in the OECD’s report Health at a Glance 2013, these are the 10 nations with the highest life expectancy. In addition to reviewing life expectancy data, 24/7 Wall St. also considered figures on subjects ranging from access to medical care, to health spending, and national-level demographics. Much of the data use in the report was collected in 2011 or earlier, including life expectancy at birth, which is as of 2011.

These are the countries where people live longest.

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