Singapore ranks world No. 4 for life expectancy

Women here can expect to live to 85 years old, and men to 80: WHO

SINGAPORE has the fourth-best life expectancy rate in the world, latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures reveal.

Average life expectancy at birth stood at 82 years in 2011, making it a joint fourth with Italy.

Women here can expect to live to 85 and men to the age of 80.

The top three countries were Japan - which has a female life expectancy of 86 and a male life expectancy of 82 - Switzerland and San Marino.

All three have an average life expectancy of 83, far outstripping the global average of 70. Sierra Leone fared worst with a mere 47 years.

Professor Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said Singapore now needs to focus on extending the quality of life through preventing and delaying the onset of chronic diseases and, where they exist, slowing down their progression.

The WHO report also compares current life expectancy to that in 1990 and 2000.

In 1990, Singapore was 29th in the world with an average life expectancy of 75; people in Japan and San Marino, a tiny country with a population of 33,000 people surrounded by Italy, were living until an average age of 79.

Dr Chia Shi Lu, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said a "key factor" in Singapore's longevity "is the excellent child and maternal health services and childhood disease prevention programmes".

The Republic has one of the lowest infant mortality rates (2.59 per 1,000 live births) and maternal death rates in the world.

The MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, a doctor himself, added: "Health care in Singapore at both the preventive and therapeutic levels is reasonably accessible and of good quality."

Many people here are living beyond the average of 82. A Singaporean who was 60 in 2011 could expect to live another quarter century, according to the WHO.

Singapore is one of 13 countries where 60-year-olds can expect to live 25 more years. Only Japan fares better with an average of 26.

This, said Professor Chia, is a better yardstick, since total life expectancy is often driven by infant and child deaths.

As countries develop economically, this will fall, he said and "mortality from chronic diseases becomes the main driver".

He pointed out that countries with large rural populations generally have lower life expectancies as rural communities tend to have higher deaths among children.

Prof Chia said another measurement known as the Disability-Adjusted Life Years is becoming an increasingly popular yardstick. This takes into account quality of life, including the amount of time a person spends living with disability, such as being paralysed after suffering a stroke, he explained.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim has been tasked with developing a Healthy Living Masterplan to encourage people here to exercise regularly, eat properly and keep chronic diseases under control.

He said: "I'm heartened by Singapore's improved ratings in life expectancy. As Singaporeans live longer, we also want to see them remain well so that they can enjoy their twilight years with their loved ones."

salma@sph.com.sg

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