A major study recently took an interesting approach in assessing worldwide health and aging. And unfortunately, the U.S. didn’t fare well. In fact, it turns out we are much worse off than even far less-modern, less-industrialized countries around the world—like Guatemala, Ecuador, Iran, and Sri Lanka.
The researchers looked at 92 different age-related medical conditions, all of which lead to a loss of healthy life. Then they determined the health profile of a typical 65-year-old by using data from the Global Disease Burden (GDB) study.
From there, they looked at whether people in 195 different countries around the world age faster or slower than a typical 65-year-old. They used this data to determine a “wellness age.”
Personally, I was interested that the researchers chose to focus on health at age 65. In the U.S., that’s the age when we’re all required to go on Medicare—and the federal government starts to bear the brunt of medical care costs. Yet, very little research focuses on people in this age group. So it’s refreshing to see some attention paid to seniors for once.
Of course, some countries fared much better than others…
Americans’ “wellness age” ranks 53rd in the world
On average, Americans have a “wellness age” of 68.5 years. Meaning that the average American doesn’t experience a 65-year-old’s age-related disease burden until they reach age 68.5. So, they delay aging, on average, by 3.5 years.
And while that sounds like a good thing, many countries fared much better than the U.S., which only ranked 53rd in the world. In fact, the top-10 countries with the best “wellness age” were:
- Japan: 76.1 years (delayed aging by 11.1 years)
- Switzerland: 76.1 years
- France: 76.0 years (delayed aging by 11 years)
- Singapore: 76.0 years
- Kuwait: 75.3 years (delayed aging by 10.3 years)
- South Korea: 75.1 years (delayed aging by 10.1 years)
- Spain: 75.1 years
- Italy: 74.8 years (delayed aging by 9.8 years)
- Puerto Rico: 74.6 years (delayed aging by 9.6 years)
- Peru: 74.3 years (delayed aging by 9.3 years)
On the other hand, the countries at the bottom of the list with the worst “wellness age” were:
- Papua New Guinea: 45.6 years (increased aging by 19.4 years)
- Marshall Islands: 51.0 years (increased aging by 14 years)
- Afghanistan: 51.6 years (increased aging by 13.4 years)
- Vanuatu: 52.2 years (increased aging by 12.8 years)
- Solomon Islands: 53.4 years (increased aging by 11.6 years)
- Central African Republic: 53.6 years (increased aging by 11.4 years)
- Lesotho: 53.6 years
- Kiribati: 54.2 years (increased aging by 10.8 years)
- Guinea-Bissau: 54.5 years (increased aging by 10.5 years)
- Federated States of Micronesia: 55.0 years (increased aging by 10 years)
As you may note, a lot of these countries—including Papua New Guinea, the island at the very bottom of the list—are located in the South Pacific.
I find it interesting that many Americans still seem to think of the South Pacific as a tropical paradise. And this romanticized view probably stems, at least in part, from the writings of Herman Melville and Somerset Maugham, and the art of Paul Gaugin.
But in reality, it’s difficult for people to eke out a living on those remote islands. And the modern travel writer Paul Theroux accurately captures this rough reality in his book, The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific.
31-year gap between healthiest and least-healthy in the world
I find the stark 31-year wellness gap between Japan and Papua New Guinea particularly sad, but not too surprising.
Papua New Guinea has faced trying times for the last 150 years. In the late 19th century, the German empire occupied it as a colony for keeping coal for its steamships. Then, after Germany lost WWI, the colony was administered by allied Australia.
But by the start of WWII, Japan occupied the island nation as a launch point for its invasion of Australia. Finally, General Douglas MacArthur turned the tables and took back the island, which launched the defeat of Japan in the major Southwest-Pacific Campaign.
Even today, Papua New Guinea still represents one of the most-remote locations on the planet, with isolated populations residing in deep valleys, separated by high mountains, and surrounded by dense jungles.
In addition, the physician and medical researcher Carleton Gajdusek found the “slow virus” responsible for kuru, an early-onset, infectious version of dementia, in Papua New Guinea. In 1976, he shared the Nobel Prize for this work with Baruch Blumberg, who won for his work on the hepatitis virus in Japan. I later worked with both men.
Disease burdens continue to linger globally
Overall, age-related disease burdens decreased worldwide between 1990 and 2017. And that’s at least one bit of good news for the world.
But heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive lung disease accounted for the greatest number of deaths and disease burdens globally.
Here in the U.S., we’re all-too-familiar with those “big three” diseases. And heart disease and stroke get lots of funding and attention.
But lung diseases—despite the tremendous toll they incur here in the U.S. and globally—get very little attention in mainstream and natural medicine circles.
Which is why I’m currently working on a brand new online learning protocol for preventing and reversing lung disease—a major cause of disability and death. So, keep watching for more information right here in my Daily Dispatch. As always, you’ll be the first to hear about it.
In the meantime, you can stay vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond with the simple, natural, healthy aging strategies in my protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” If you’d like to learn more about this online learning tool or enroll today, simply click here.
“Age-related disease burden as a measure of population ageing.” The Lancet Public Health, 2019; 4 (3): e159. doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(19)30026-X.