Male life expectancy lowered by smoking and drinking

by Akira Ogawa

Kyodo News

The difference in average life expectancy between men and women in Japan was 3.9 years after World War II but has since expanded to nearly seven years.

Why do women live longer lives than men?

The answer is smoking and alcohol are shortening men’s lives, while women’s hormones and other characteristics are prolonging theirs, widening the difference in average life expectancy, according to a recent study.

The finding was disclosed by Hirotsugu Ueshima, a professor at Shiga University of Medical Science, at the recent inaugural meeting in Tokyo of the Association for Gender-Specific Medicine in Japan. Ueshima surveyed about 10,000 people across the country over a period of 19 years.

It is a global phenomenon that women live longer than men. In Japan, women’s average life expectancy has been the highest in the world for 22 straight years. In 2006, the figure was 85.8 years for women, compared with 79.0 years for men.

There are striking differences in average life expectancy between men and women in advanced countries, with Russia recording the largest difference at 14 years.

“There are fewer cases of cancer and cardiovascular disease among women. That is the reason,” Ueshima said.

Smoking, alcohol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity also contribute to the difference, he added.

The rate of smoking among Japanese men was 60 percent around 1990 and is currently 40 percent, high for an advanced country.

The rate among Japanese women is much lower at 12 percent to 15 percent.

Women’s blood pressure is also lower than men’s.

“In the 1960s, when the death rate from strokes was high, the difference in blood pressure between men and women was not large, but women’s blood pressure has lowered considerably since then,” Ueshima said.

“The rate of smoking among men is declining. If the negative factors among men decrease with improved living habits, the difference in average life expectancy between men and women will narrow in the future,” Ueshima said.