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Japanese women No. 1 in worldwide life expectancy for third straight year

Kyodo

Japanese women took the top spot in average life expectancy worldwide for the third consecutive year in 2014 at 86.83 years, while Japanese men climbed a notch to tie for third place at 80.50 years.

The figures for both Japanese females and males marked all-time highs, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Thursday.

For women, Hong Kong was second at 86.75 years and Spain third at 85.60 years. Hong Kong men ranked top at 81.17 years, followed by men in Iceland at 80.8 years. Japanese men shared third place with men in Singapore and Switzerland.

The data covered 49 countries plus Hong Kong.

The results “seem to reflect the progress in medical treatment. Average life expectancy may still be extended,” a health ministry official said, citing improving survival rates for cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and pneumonia.

The Japanese women’s figure was up 0.22 of a year from the previous year and Japanese men marked a rise of 0.29 of a year. The difference between men and women has been narrowing in recent years after peaking at 6.97 years in 2003.

Japanese women have enjoyed the world’s longest average life expectancy since 1985, except in 2011 when they fell behind women in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region that March.

The average life expectancy denotes the expectancy at birth.

Takao Suzuki, a professor at J.F. Oberlin University’s Graduate School of Gerontology, said the average life expectancy of Japanese is likely to continue to grow in the coming years because baby boomers who are now elderly grew up in the postwar era when they had enough food to eat and the economy was on the rise.

“But it is unclear whether those after that generation will be able to remain in the top rank when they become older,” said Suzuki. “There could be a ‘health disparity’ depending on the amount of exercise people had during childhood, and economic disparity” is a factor.

Extending the “healthy life expectancy” is more important than life expectancy itself, Suzuki said. It is necessary to take preventive measures for lifestyle diseases and osteoporosis or seek treatment for dementia at an early stage, he said.