Is a significant increase in life expectancy on the horizon?
According to a report, advancements in the field of medicine are expected to drive a substantial increase in human lifespan. According to a recent report from Swiss Re, although the pace of improvements in human life expectancy has decelerated in the past decade, the next wave of advancements is on the horizon.
Swiss Re Group, a prominent global provider of reinsurance and insurance, along with various insurance-based risk transfer solutions, operates through multiple essential business units. These include reinsurance, which has been a core focus since the company’s establishment in the 1800s, corporate solutions for commercial insurance, life capital emphasizing the primary insurance market, and public sector solutions dedicated to partnerships with governments, public sector entities, and multilateral organizations.
Swiss Re’s latest report, “The future of life expectancy: Forecasting long-term mortality trends for insurance,” highlights that significant enhancements in global life expectancy are anticipated in the areas of cancer diagnosis and treatment. However, Swiss Re emphasizes that sustained improvements in human longevity will also require addressing health concerns prevalent among the elderly, such as Alzheimer’s disease, alongside focusing on lifestyle factors and ensuring access to healthcare.
Paul Murray, CEO of life and health reinsurance at Swiss Re, expressed concerns about the current state of global life expectancy gains. He emphasized the potential for medical research to propel the next significant advancements in longevity. However, Murray also stressed the importance of individuals consistently adopting and intensifying healthy lifestyle choices to promote longer and healthier lives. Furthermore, he called for society to actively tackle barriers to healthcare access in order to support improved life expectancy for all.
Swiss Re noted that advancements in life expectancy often occur in successive waves, driven by significant medical breakthroughs or widespread social shifts such as the decline in smoking. During the 20th century, the introduction of pharmaceutical innovations that effectively lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels led to a remarkable increase in life expectancy. As of 2020, the global average life expectancy for individuals at birth exceeds 70 years, in stark contrast to the mere 55 years recorded at the end of the 1950s.
Since 2010, various factors such as diseases associated with obesity, the increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, and disparities in healthcare access have gradually diminished the progress made in life expectancy across numerous regions worldwide. Consequently, life expectancy has reached a plateau in advanced markets.
US life expectancy declines
The United States stands out as an exception within advanced markets. In 2019, only the top 10% of the US population, determined by socioeconomic status, exhibited a life expectancy at birth comparable to the OECD average of approximately 80 years for men and 84 years for women. This indicates a significant discrepancy in life expectancy between different socioeconomic groups within the United States, according to Swiss Re.
Swiss Re highlights that a man born into the lowest 10% socioeconomic status in the US faces a life expectancy of approximately 73 years, indicating a significant disparity. This trend is closely associated with unequal access to healthcare resulting from widening socioeconomic inequality.
Furthermore, Swiss Re points out that the prevalence of obesity, affecting around 70% of the population, has led to an increase in conditions such as type 2 diabetes. The rising number of opioid-related deaths, which have surged eightfold since 1999, has also had a notable impact on life expectancy.
Absence of medical breakthroughs hits UK life expectancy
Between 1968 and 2010, a significant portion of the increase in life expectancy in the UK, accounting for approximately 70%, was attributed to a decline in deaths associated with circulatory diseases. This decline played a crucial role in raising life expectancy from 71 to 80 years. However, starting from 2010, the rate of life expectancy growth in the UK has slowed considerably, with an increase of only one year. This deceleration is attributed to fewer advancements in cancer treatments and the growing impact of dementia and respiratory diseases, which have diminished the progress made in previous years.
Japan and Switzerland top list for longevity
Swiss Re’s report reveals that Japan and Switzerland stand out among advanced economies with some of the highest life expectancies at birth, averaging around 84 years. This significant increase from their life expectancies of approximately 70 years in 1960 can be attributed primarily to improvements in cardiovascular health.
The higher life expectancies in Japan and Switzerland are further supported by favorable lifestyle factors and access to well-funded healthcare systems. These factors contribute to the overall longevity of their populations, as individuals are able to maintain healthier lifestyles and benefit from comprehensive healthcare services.
The next wave of longevity gains
Advancements in cancer treatment and diagnosis hold significant potential to drive further improvements in longevity. For instance, the use of liquid biopsies enables early detection of certain types of cancer, while the transition from generalized therapy to personalized treatments is expected to enhance cancer survival rates. Additionally, the successful deployment of mRNA vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights their potential to contribute to improved life expectancy, as stated by Swiss Re.
Public policy plays a crucial role in cancer survival rates as well. For example, in the UK, the widespread adoption of screening for certain cancers has led to a remarkable increase of over 50% in survivability rates. Such initiatives and interventions at a policy level can positively impact the outcomes and prognosis for cancer patients, further enhancing life expectancy.
Tackling late-life illnesses
The importance of addressing diseases that primarily affect individuals in later stages of life, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as a key factor in increasing longevity. Projections in the UK indicate a significant rise in the number of individuals affected by Alzheimer’s disease, with estimates suggesting that it will nearly double by 2040, surpassing 1.6 million people.
Additionally, Swiss Re highlights several emerging technologies that have the potential to impact life expectancy. The integration of artificial intelligence in medical research and treatment decision-making processes is expected to contribute to future advancements.
Natalie Kelly, the head of global underwriting, claims, and R&D at Swiss Re, underscores the role of medical technology, lifestyle changes, and access to healthcare in driving the next wave of improvements in longevity. Kelly emphasizes that both the public and private sectors have important roles to play. From an insurance industry perspective, it is crucial to understand these complex drivers to effectively protect customers when they most need it and promote lifestyle choices that foster longer and healthier lives.