November 2, 1995 in Nation/World

Reach 80 And You’ve Got It Made Americans Past That Age Live Longer Than Anyone In The World

Knight-Ridder
 

Hey, old timer, things are looking up.

Make it to age 80 in the United States and you are likely to live longer than anyone in the developed world, according to an article in today’s New England Journal of Medicine. Longer than a typical Brit. Longer than a Swede. Even longer than a Japanese.

“Simply put: we are healthier,” said Duke University professor James Vaupel, a co-author. “There is a lot of focus on the failures of the U.S. health care system, but this is one of the successes.”

Vaupel and Duke colleague Ken Manton studied more than 60 million death certificates from five countries. They concluded that the average American who survives to 80 lives about six months longer than a Japanese, Swede, or French citizen, and a year longer than a Brit.

Why? Mostly because old folks in the United States get better medical care, say the pair. They also smoke less, eat less fatty food and are generally better educated.

Finally, more Americans die before age 65 because of accidents, infant maladies or bad care. So the ones who survive may be healthier.

“When most people in the U.S. have gotten to these ages, they have survived the biggest risks to early death,” said Charles Nam, a professor at Florida State University who studies death statistics. “They have managed to live on when others haven’t.”

Manton and Vaupel decided to compare the United States to Japan, Sweden and France because those countries have long been among the leaders for overall life expectancy. They also used Great Britain, which is comparable to the United States.

Babies born in Japan in 1991, for instance, had a life expectancy of 79.6 years. That is five years longer than life expectancy for babies in the United States - 75.5 years.

The United States has comparably high rates of death before age 65 - including an infant mortality rate of 8 per 1000, almost twice that of Japan and Sweden, high AIDS rates and many other problems.

But after 80 years of age, the outlook changes. The U.S. health care system - largely funded by Medicare - does not require long waits for surgeries common in other countries.

They excluded blacks from the data because birth dates among elderly blacks are often inaccurate, Manton said. That does not change the national result, though, because several smaller studies have shown that blacks who reach 80 live longer.


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