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Singaporeans have longest life expectancy in the world, but number of years of poor health is also up

In Singapore, early deaths and disabilities have traditionally most often been caused by cardiovascular diseases, cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental illness, but after 1990, age-driven health conditions like hearing loss, dementia and musculoskeletal degeneration are on the rise

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Singapore — People in Singapore are living longer than anyone else in the world, as a 2017 study showed. The expected life span in Singapore is 84.8 years, higher than runner-up Japan’s life span by over six months.

And although the study shows that Singaporeans, on average, have 74.2 healthy years, which is also the highest in the world, but how long life is spent in poor health is unfortunately also on the rise.

An article in The Straits Times (ST) quotes the Burden of Disease in Singapore 1990-2017 report as saying

“The years that Singaporeans have gained are too often spent coping with age-related health problems.”

The Burden of Disease in Singapore was carried out by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in the United States in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH).

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This means that for Singaporeans who were born in 2017, they could “expect to live for 84.8 years, but of that 10.6 of those years would be spent in poor health”, whereas those born in 1990 would only live nine years in poor health.

In Singapore, early deaths and disabilities have traditionally most often been caused by cardiovascular diseases, cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental illness, but after 1990, age-driven health conditions like hearing loss, dementia and musculoskeletal degeneration have seen the swiftest rate of increase.

But thankfully enough, experts such as epidemiologist Professor Chia Kee Seng say that a number of these conditions do not prevent people from living good lives.

Professor Chia, who is from Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, said, “Many of these chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and high blood lipids are asymptomatic conditions unless complications set in.

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

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

A person can live with disabilities at other times in his or her life, not only during the senior years. For example, this can occur after an accident and a person is recovering, or a time of depression, or a period of increased disability due to chronic back pain.

Here are some important statistics about disability and overall health:

— 11 percent of disability is caused by injuries, over half (6.2 percent) of which is called by accidental injuries like falls. 2.5 percent is from self-harm, and two percent is from road accidents

— 26 percent of disability years for youths aged 10 through 34 years old is due to mental disorders

— for people in their middle ages, musculoskeletal conditions are a big contributing factor to disability

—for women, the peak ages for cancer are 55 to 59, and women mainly suffer from breast and reproductive system cancers

—for men, the peak ages for cancer are 70 to 74, and men mainly suffer from lung, colorectal, liver and prostate cancers

—the main risk factors for poor health wherein people can make changes are diet, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes

According to the report,

“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.”

Last October, the IHME reported that by 2040, Singaporeans will be living until the age of 85.4 years, the third highest around the globe. Spain is expected to have the longest lifetime by then, at 85.8 years, followed by Japan, at 85.7 years./ TISG

Read also: Longer life expectancy adds to global disruption

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