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Global longevity rankings to change by 2040, says study

It projects Spaniards will live longest, US and China will trade ranks and Singapore will be in third place with 85.4 years

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LIFE expectancy in 2040 is set to rise at least a little in all nations, but the rankings will change dramatically, with Spain taking the top spot while China and the United States trade places, researchers said on Wednesday.

With a projected average lifespan of nearly 85.8 years, Spain - in fourth place as at 2016 - will dethrone Japan, which topped the rankings in 2016 with a lifespan of 83.7 years. The Asian country will fall back to second place in 2040 with 85.7 years.

In the study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Singapore will take third place in 2040 with a life span of 85.4 years (from 83.3 years as at 2016).

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The remaining seven nations in the top 10 by life span 22 years from now will be: Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Israel, France, Luxembourg and Australia.

The study's projection that China and the US would trade rankings is being seen by some to reflect a changing of the guard between the world's two largest economies: the US will fall from 43rd (as at 2016) to 64th (79.8 years), while China will rise from 68th to 39th (81.9 years).

Other economies set to lose ground in the race for longevity include Canada (from 17th to 27th), Norway (12th to 20th), Australia (fifth to 10th), Mexico (69th to 87th), Taiwan (35th to 42nd) and North Korea 125th to 153rd).

Moving up the ranking are Indonesia (117th to 100th), Nigeria (157th to 123rd), Portugal (23rd to fifth), Poland (48th to 34th), Turkey (40th to 26th), Saudi Arabia (61st to 43rd).

For the world as a whole, the researchers' study projected a five-year gain in lifespan, from 73.8 years in 2016 to 77.7 in 2040.

They also forecast more optimistic and pessimistic scenarios, in which life expectancy increases to 81 years in the first case, and essentially stagnates in the second.

Lead author Kyle Foreman, head of data science at IHME, said: "The future of the world's health is not pre-ordained. But whether we see signficant progress or stagnation depends on how well or poorly health systems address key health drivers."

The top five "drivers" or determinants of average lifespans two decades from now are all related to so-called "lifestyle" diseases: high blood pressure, obesity, high blood sugar, along with alcohol and tobacco use.

Ranking a close sixth is air pollution, which scientists estimate claims a million lives a year in China alone.

More generally, the world will see an acceleration of the shift already under way from communicable to non-communicable diseases, along with injuries, as the top cause of premature death.

The world's poorest countries in 2018 will continue to fare poorly in life expectancy, said the study, published in The Lancet.

With the exception of Afghanistan, the bottom 30 countries in 2040 - with projected lifespans between 57 and 69 years - are either in sub-Saharan Africa or small island states in the Pacific.

IHME director Christopher Murray said in a statement: "Inequalities will continue to be large. In a substantial number of countries, too many people will continue earning relatively low incomes, remain poorly educated and die prematurely.

"But nations could make faster progress by helping people tackle the major risks, especially smoking and poor diet."

Tobacco consumption alone claims about seven million lives each year, said the World Health Organization.

In 2016, four of the top 10 causes of premature mortality were non-communicable diseases or injuries. In 2040, that figure is expected to rise to eight out of 10.

The study is available at www.healthdata.org. AFP