Hongkongers top life expectancy rankings worldwide for second year in a row

The city has edged out Japan, a country known for longevity

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 July, 2017, 8:34pm

Hongkongers continue to have the highest life expectancy in the world, surpassing Japan’s men and women for the second consecutive year, according to the Japanese government.

The city topped the charts for longevity after taking the crown last year, with men expected to live to 81.32 years, while women are expected to reach 87.34 years, based on newly released rankings from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Japan’s men and women came in second, with a life expectancy of 80.98 and 87.14 years respectively.

The life expectancies from both Japan and Hong Kong have increased from the year before.

According to previous numbers, Hong Kong men could expect to live to 81.24 years, while women had an expected lifespan of 87.32 years.

Lam Tai-hing , a professor in community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said it was “not very fair” to compare the city with countries.

Japan’s rates were dragged down by rural populations which had lower life expectancies due to worse economic conditions and health care access, he said.

He attributed Hong Kong’s higher life expectancy to its low proportion of smokers. Only about 10 per cent of the population smoke daily, according to government statistics, compared with about 20 per cent in Japan.

Hong Kong began anti-smoking policies about 30 years ago, and the effects could be seen now, Lam said, although he urged the government to increase the tobacco tax.

The struggle for Hong Kong’s old and sick to die with dignity

Lam predicted that the city’s life expectancy rates would stay ahead of Japan for the next five to 10 years.

Population health expert Paul Yip Siu-fai from HKU said he was not surprised by the latest rankings. He attributed the numbers to low infant and maternal mortality rates, and the city’s health care efforts for the elderly.

He said the focus now for Hong Kong was to ensure its citizens lived healthier – not just longer.

“Now we live long enough to be hit by problems [such as cancer],” Yip said. “There’s not much emphasis on how to maintain people’s health and well-being.”

Yip urged the government to spend more money and resources on health programmes, which would encourage people to have good diets, exercise and maintain a healthy work-life balance. This would diminish the possibility of health problems later in life.

“This is something we have to work on in order to save money [in the later stages],” he said. “Our strategy is still on hospital care rather than prevention.”

As for whether Hong Kong’s life expectancy would continue to rise, he said this depended on the effectiveness of future medical developments.

Japanese women have historically had the highest life expectancy in the world, leading all countries between 1985 and 2010. But they were surpassed by statistics for Hong Kong women in 2011 after Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

From 2012 to 2014, Japanese women regained the top spot, but Hong Kong overtook them yet again the following year.

In its report this year, the Japanese ministry noted it was difficult to compare life expectancies accurately between countries, as the statistics could be from different time periods.

Green light for plan allowing more Hongkongers to ‘age in place’

The lowest life expectancy listed in the report was for South Africa, where men and women are expected to live to 53.5 and 57.2 years respectively.

Like much of Asia, Hong Kong has an increasingly ageing population – by 2030, one in four Hong Kong residents are expected to be aged 65 or over.

Male life expectancy

1. Hong Kong: 81.32

2. Japan: 80.98

3. Cyprus: 80.9

4. Iceland: 80.7

5. Switzerland: 80.7

6. Norway: 80.61

7. Singapore: 80.6

8. Sweden: 80.56

9. Australia: 80.4

10. Israel: 80.3

Female life expectancy

1. Hong Kong: 87.34

2. Japan: 87.14

3. Spain: 85.42

4. France: 85.4

5. South Korea: 85.2

6. Singapore: 85.1

7. Switzerland: 84.9

8. Cyprus: 84.7

9. Italy: 84.606

10. Australia: 84.5

Source: Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare