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For the last 100 years, life expectancy in the UK has been rising. With a higher standard of living and better healthcare for more people throughout the country, the last century has seen a huge increase in the length of time people can expect to live.
But now, the data shows that this century of progress has been faltering since 2010, and could even grind to a halt completely1. So, what’s going on, and what’s causing the slowdown?
What does the data say?
Data compiled by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that for life expectancy of people in England, the rate of increase has almost halved since 2010. Sir Michael Marmot, a former government adviser and expert from the University College London, has said the situation is “historically highly unusual”, as life expectancy has been rising, uninterrupted, for almost 100 years.
In 1919, men lived for an average of 52.5 years and women lived for an average of 56.1 years. Between 2000 and 2015, life expectancy in England rose at a rate of one extra year of life every five years for women, and every 3.5 years for men. In 2010, the life expectancy for men and women was 78.7 and 82.6 years respectively1.
However, post-2010 life expectancy has continued to increase but far more slowly. The rate has slowed to an extra year of life every 10 years for women and every six years for men. The latest statistics show that life expectancy is now appearing to level off, with very little increase between 2013 and 2015. The data shows a very clear slowdown in life expectancy growth in England, post-2010 2.
There is no clear-cut reason for the slowdown. However, some analysts have pointed to the correlation between the financial recession of 2008 and the start of the downturn. The recession brought hardship to many households which could have adversely affected living standards and risk factors such as diet.
Sir Michael also points to reduced government spending on healthcare and social care which may have negatively affected the quality of care for older people2
Have we reached our limit?
It seems logical that, at some point, we will reach our natural limit for life expectancy. However, the science suggests that we are not there yet. The UK life expectancy is still behind many other countries in the world where people are continuing to live longer and longer. There is no biological reason why people in the UK should not live as long as people in Hong Kong, for example.
A recent study predicted that life expectancy will soon top 90 in many parts of the developed world. A more controversial study from 2016 found that the human life span may be limited to 115 years3. The study looked at super-centenarians (people aged over 110) in France, Japan, the UK and the USA. The researchers found that maximum age of death has plateaued for the last 20 years. However, various other scientists have urged people to read these findings with caution, as previous studies over the years have claimed that the limit of the human lifespan is 65, 85 and, most recently, 105.3
How to maximise your life span
Whatever the life expectancy for your generation, you can maximise your chance of outliving the average by taking care of yourself. A healthy lifestyle can help you avoid risk factors for common killers such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes. By getting the basics right (eating a balanced diet, staying active, limiting your alcohol consumption and not smoking) you can give yourself the best chance of living a long and happy life.
Want to know how you’re doing? Our health assessments can give you a picture of your overall health and wellbeing, along with tips for living a healthier lifestyle and possible red flags to look out for.
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