S'poreans 'living longer in good health - and bad'

PHOTO: S'poreans 'living longer in good health - and bad'

SINGAPORE - Men in Singapore have the second highest healthy life expectancy in the world and women the fourth highest.

Japan tops the list for both.

But these longer healthy lives also come with longer years of disability, according to a study published last week in The Lancet, a highly reputed London- based medical journal.

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 compares health and disabilities in 187 countries in 1990 and 2010.

It found that a boy born here in 1990 could expect to live 72.8 years and a girl, 77.9 years. In 2010, it had gone up to 78.8 years for boys and 83.3 years for girls. While part of the increase is in healthy years, the bulk will be lived in poor health.

A boy born here in 2010 can expect to live 68.1 years in good health and 10.7 years coping with serious disability. A girl can expect 70 years of healthy life and 13.3 years with poor health.

This is roughly two years more of living with poor health compared to those born in 1990.

What is happening to the current generation of Singaporeans reflects a worldwide trend of people living longer, but with an increase in "unhealthy" years outpacing additional healthy years.

Lancet editor Richard Horton said: "More people will be spending more years of their lives with more illnesses.

"Women are hit especially hard by disability. Women aged 15 to 65 years lose more healthy life to disability than men."

Women who enjoy the longest years of healthy lives are from Japan, South Korea, Spain, Singapore and Taiwan.

In 1990, Japanese women were the only Asian women to make the top 10 list.

The only Asian country whose men made it to the top 10 list in 2010, aside from Japan and Singapore, was South Korea in 10th place.

Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health, said this study "further reinforces the importance of health promotion efforts to prevent or delay the onset of disease, which would improve both healthy life expectancy and life expectancy".

She added that the widening gap between total life span and the number of healthy years "is likely due to lifestyle factors; and prevention efforts for lifestyle- related diseases not keeping pace with advancements in medicine that improve survival but do not completely cure the disease".

Mr Liak Teng Lit, who heads Alexandra Health System, was more blunt: "It's the way we live. Health in old age is determined in the early years of life.

"Everyone knows they should exercise at least three times a week, but only 20 per cent do so. If you don't exercise when you're young, your bones are weak and they'll break easily when you're old."

Similarly, people are living too many years in retirement without a hobby or activity to keep them going. This could lead to mental problems, he said.

Summarising the findings, Dr Horton said: "Blood pressure is the biggest global risk factor for disease, followed by tobacco, alcohol and poor diet."

Work on the Lancet study started in 2007 and involved 486 scientists from 302 institutions, including the World Health Organisation.

The paper classified disabilities leading to unhealthy lives as mental disorders, musculoskeletal disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, anaemia and loss of hearing and vision.


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