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HealthGlobal issues

Global life expectancy set to rise nearly 5 years by 2050

May 17, 2024

New research predicts a rise in life expectancy worldwide over the next three decades, particularly in Africa. Meanwhile, obesity and other factors are also set to play a larger role in poor health.

A woman at a retirement home in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Public health measures have contributed to humans living longer than everImage: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Global life expectancy is set to increase by almost five years by 2025, new research has found, but factors like obesity and high blood pressure mean people will spend more years in poor health.

The findings were part of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study 2021, which was published in the medical journal The Lancet on Thursday. 

"Future trends may be quite different than past trends because of factors such as climate change and increasing obesity and addiction," said Liane Ong, lead research scientist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHMEE) at the University of Washington, which led the study.

Longer lifespans around the world

The Global Burden of Diseases team predicted that life expectancy is expected to rise from 71.1 years to 76 years for men and from 76.2 years to 80.5 years for women.

Countries that currently have lower life expectancies are set to see the biggest gains.

"This is an indicator that while health inequalities between the highest and lowest income regions will remain, the gaps are shrinking, with the biggest increases anticipated in sub-Saharan Africa," said IMHEE director Dr. Chris Murray.

Population growth: How many people are too many?

The researchers said this trend is largely driven by public health measures that have prevented and improved survival rates from diseases like heart disease, COVID-19, and a range of communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases.

Obesity weighs on health outcomes

The research also found that the total number of years lost due to metabolic risk factors like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high body mass index (BMI) has increased by almost 49.4% since 2000.

Air pollution, smoking and low birth weight were also among the largest contributors to the number of years of health lost due to poor health and early death. 

"There is immense opportunity ahead for us to influence the future of global health by getting ahead of these rising metabolic and dietary risk factors, particularly those related to behavioral and lifestyle factors like high blood sugar, high body mass index, and high blood pressure," Murray said.

zc/sms (Reuters, dpa)