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Singaporeans have world's longest life expectancy at 84.8 years

20 Jun 2019 
SOURCE: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission

​By Salma Khalik​

Singapore topped the world in life expectancy in 2017 with an expected lifespan at birth of 84.8 years, surging ahead of traditional chart-topper Japan by more than half a year.

The average Singaporean also enjoys the longest span of living in good health - 74.2 years - but there has also been a rise in the number of unhealthy years people here live.

The Burden of Disease in Singapore 1990-2017 report, by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in the United States in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH), said: "The years that Singaporeans have gained are too often spent coping with age-related health problems."

What it means is that Singaporeans born in 2017 can "expect to live for 84.8 years, but that 10.6 of those years would be spent in poor health", according to the recently released report.

Those born in 1990, however, are expected to suffer only nine years of poor health.

The biggest culprits for disability and early deaths are cardiovascular diseases, cancer, musculoskeletal disorders and mental illness.

However, since 1990, the disabilities that have grown most rapidly are increases in hearing and vision loss followed by neurological disorders such as dementia and musculoskeletal disorders - all age-driven problems.

Singaporeans have worlds longest life expectancy at 84.8 years

Professor Chia Kee Seng, an epidemiologist at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, said many of the disabilities do not stop people from living good lives.

"Many of these chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and high blood lipids are asymptomatic conditions unless complications set in," he said.

"Apart from proper management of these conditions through lifestyle and medication, it is equally important to adopt a 'sick but well' mindset," he added.

"In other words, although I am biologically sick, I am not going to let it affect my well-being and (I will) continue to be resilient, engaged and productive."

Years lived with disabilities do not necessarily occur only at the end of life.

Singaporeans have worlds longest life expectancy at 84.8 years​They can, for example, includ​e the period of recovery after an accident, a period of depression that a person overcomes, or increasing disability caused by back pain.

Injuries account for almost 11 per cent of disability and early deaths suffered here, with unintentional injuries such as falls making up 6.2 per cent.​

Self-harm (2.5 per cent) resulted in more injuries than road accidents (2 per cent).

Mental disorders accounted for 26 per cent of the disability years for younger people aged 10 to 34 years; while musculoskeletal problems plagued the middle-aged, peaking at the ages 35 to 39.

Cancer affected the genders differently, peaking at 55 to 59 years for women and 70 to 74 years for men. The top cancers for men were lung, colorectal, liver and prostate; and for women, they were mainly breast and reproductive system cancers.

The report said the main modifiable risk factors for poor health here stem from diet, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

It said: "Singapore faces a challenge shared by many nations: how to increase LE (life expectancy) while simultaneously decreasing the amount of time people spend in poor health.

"This goal of longer lifespans and less time spent living with illness has not yet been achieved consistently by any country."

Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, director of medical services at the MOH, hopes the report can better guide the way healthcare policies are formulated and implemented.

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