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Life expectancy, so much more than a simple question of health

Published on October 21, 2014 at 14:42 / Updated on December 9, 2019 at 14:15

Unfortunately, when it comes to health, the sun does not shine equally unto us all. Even though lifestyle habits and various individual factors are significant determinants when it comes to life expectancy and the onset of diseases, it nevertheless seems that social factors are largely responsible for the colossal gaps in the dissemination of diseases and life expectancy across the globe. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a three-year analysis of the social determinants of health. Their conclusion is that in nearly all of the world’s countries, poor socioeconomic conditions equate to poor health.

The differences in life expectancy between various countries are quite impressive. For example, life expectancy in Japan is 83 years of age, but it is actually 81 in Canada. And although life expectancy barely reaches 50 years of age in many African countries, it plummets to its lowest value in Lesotho, as individuals born in that country are expected to live 42 years. Furthermore, depending on socioeconomic conditions, life expectancy can also be immensely different between the districts of a single city. Another example of astonishing disparity is the risk a woman has of dying during pregnancy and childbirth. The fact is that in Sweden, one woman out of 17,400 will perish during this time, compared to one woman out of eight in Afghanistan.

The key message of this report is that the circumstances in which a person is born, grows, lives, works and ages are the fundamental determinants of their health condition. The report also highlights education, affordable housing, access to healthy foods and social security protection as the key factors that determine the health of a population. Theoretically, it would seem possible to reduce inequalities in terms of health by simply improving the social structures of impoverished communities. But what can we do individually and collectively to improve this appalling situation? Unfortunately, this is a question for which we have yet to find an answer …

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