Significantly Longer Life Expectancy Coming. For Americans, Not So Much: Study

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People born in 2030 will have longer lives than scientists once thought possible, but American babies born in 2030 will continue to have one of the lowest life expectancies of any developed country, according to a new study.

Scientists once thought an average life expectancy beyond 90 was impossible but medical advances combined with improved social programs are continuing to break barriers, including in countries where many people already live well into old age, according to the study's lead researcher, Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London.

"I can imagine that there is a limit," he said, "but we are still very far from it."

Ezzati estimated that someday people could survive on average to at least 110 or 120 years.

The study shows South Korean girls born in 2030 are likely to have the greatest lifespan. They'll have a more than 50 percent chance of living past 90 --that's roughly 7 years longer than South Korean girls born in 2010. The longevity of South Korean women estimated in 2030 is due largely to investments in universal health care, he said. South Korea also led the list for men.

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"It's basically the opposite of what we're doing in the West, where there's a lot of austerity and inequality," he said.

Ezzati and his co-authors used death and longevity trends to estimate life expectancy in 35 developed countries for a baby born in 2030. The study was published online Tuesday in The Lancet.

Women were ahead of men in all countries. Behind South Korea, women in France, Japan, Spain and Switzerland were projected to live until 88. For South Korea men, life expectancy is expected to reach 84. Next were Australia, Switzerland, Canada and the Netherlands at nearly 84.

At the bottom of the list: Macedonia for women at nearly 78, and Serbia for men at about 73.

While some genetic factors might explain the longevity in certain countries, Ezzati said, social and environmental factors were probably more important.

The study estimated that the U.S., which already lags behind other developed countries, will fall even further behind by 2030, when men and women are projected to live to 80 and 83. American women will fall to 27th out of 35 countries, from their current ranking of 25, and men will fall from 23rd to 26th.

The researchers note that, among rich countries, the U.S. has the highest maternal and child death rates, homicide rate and body-mass index. It's the only country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without universal health care. "The poor recent and projected U.S. performance is at least partly due to high and inequitable mortality from chronic diseases and violence, and insufficient and inequitable health care," the study notes.

In an accompanying commentary, Ailiana Santosa of Umea University in Sweden wrote that the projections raise "crucial issues" about which strategies are needed to tackle worsening inequality problems.

"Achieving universal health coverage is worthy, plausible and needs to be continued," she said.

The study was paid for by the U.K. Medical Research Council and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Editor's Note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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