National / Science & Health

Japan made gains in 'healthy life expectancy' from 2013 to 2016, survey shows

Kyodo, JIJI

Japan’s “healthy life expectancy” stats rose for both men and women between 2013 and 2016 as people focused on taking better care of themselves, the government said Friday.

The term refers to the average period one can live without nursing care or becoming seriously ill.

Men averaged 72.14 years of healthy living, almost a year more than the previous survey in 2013, while women averaged 74.79 years, up just over six months. A health ministry official attributed the rise to more people placing importance on better nutrition and exercise.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry releases the data on healthy life expectancy every three years. It has been promoting healthy living to close the gap between healthy and standard life expectancy. The survey began in 2010.

The disparity has been shrinking. In 2016 it stood at 8.84 years for men and 12.35 years for women.

The results are based on data from the ministry’s latest Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions, which covered some 710,000 people in 289,470 households. The healthy life span was estimated by analyzing answers to a series of questions, one of which asked whether respondents had health problems in their daily lives.

Yasuhiro Yuki, professor of social security studies at Shukutoku University in Chiba, said shrinking the gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy will reduce the need for medical and nursing care and minimize social security costs.

“With medical advancements, the number of healthy elderly is expected to increase. We will have to design a framework to boost the quality of individuals’ lives by securing job opportunities and facilitating social participation for people as old as their 70s,” he said.

By prefecture, Yamanashi ranked first in terms of male healthy life expectancy at 73.21 years, while Aichi Prefecture topped the female healthy life expectancy list at 76.32 years, the data show.

Yamanashi saw a high cancer screening rate, while Aichi has trained citizens as health promotion volunteers.

No data was available for Kumamoto Prefecture because of disruptions caused by the string of powerful earthquakes in April 2016.

Akita Prefecture scored the lowest on the survey for men at 71.21 years, while Hiroshima Prefecture came in last for women at 73.62 years.

Under a 10-year health promotion plan introduced in fiscal 2013, the ministry is working to extend healthy life expectancy by setting numerical targets for death rates caused by lifestyle-related diseases, including smoking and drinking.