Hong Kong women and men enjoy world’s longest life expectancy due to low smoking rates, health experts claim

Second place held by Japanese women and Icelandic and Swiss men

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2016, 4:08pm

Hong Kong’s women and men enjoy the longest life expectancy in the world, according to data released by Japan’s health and welfare ministry on Wednesday.

The average lifespan for women in Hong Kong is 87.32 years, and local men on average can expect to live to 81.24. Japanese women took second place at 87.05, while Icelandic and Swiss men shared the second position in the men’s category at 81 years.

The overall life expectancy gap between women and men fell by 0.07 year last year, compared with the previous year’s figures.

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Since 1985, Japanese womenhad the world’s longest average life expectancy. But this changed in 2011 when Hong Kong women overtook them after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan in March that same year. Japanese women then regained the top spot in 2012 and managed to retain it for three consecutive years until last year.

Smoking in Hong Kong compared to 30 years ago has been reduced by half
Lam Tai-Hing, HKU professor

A Japanese health ministry spokesman said longer lifespans resulted from improved medical treatment and technology in beating diseases like cancer.

Meanwhile, local health experts expressed little surprise over the findings for Hong Kong.

University of Hong Kong public health professor Lam Tai-Hing said the city’s low smoking rates were the main reason for its life expectancy results. “Smoking in Hong Kong compared with 30 years ago has been reduced by half,” he said, adding that recent data showed 19 per cent of local men smoked and only 3 per cent of local women smoked.

Lam noted that, when compared with Japan’s number of smokers – 30 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women – Hong Kong would continue to eclipse Japan in life expectancy rates in future. Michael Ni Yuxuan, a clinical assistant professor of public health at HKU, agreed with Lam. “Hong Kong has extremely low tobacco rates compared with the UK, US and Japan,” he said.

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Ni highlighted low infant and maternal mortality rates as another major factor. Department of Health figures showed infant mortality rates in the city dropped from 9.7 per 1,000 live births in 1981 to 1.3 per 1,000 last year.

But Lam cautioned that differences between Hong Kong and Japan had to be taken into consideration. “Hong Kong is a city. Japan is a whole country,” he said, explaining that Japanese living in rural areas may have worse nutrition than Hongkongers as well as less accessibility to health care and education – factors in life expectancy. “In general, people in the city have longer lives, and people in Hong Kong have good access to education, clean water and electricity,” he added.