Expert US panel dives into a longevity forum - report overview

An expert panel of actuaries in the United States have put together a report on drivers of mortality, as part of the Society of Actuaries Longevity Initiative.

In the US in 1910, a 65-year-old man was expected to live to age 76, and a woman to age 77. A century later, a 65-year-old man is expected to live age 82, and a woman to age 85. This trend is likely to continue, however it is unclear if the process will accelerate or stay about the same, or even slow.

A day-long forum was put together to discuss longevity and mortality. The views expressed at the forum fell into two camps, one at either extreme of human potential for longevity: unlimited human lifespans versus biological limitations to human life. Most views fell into the latter camp.

The top identified drivers affecting mortality in the US over the coming decade were ranked:

  1. Individual behaviour issues

  2. Socioeconomic status (SES) inequality

  3. Social policy (access to healthcare and other health-related interventions, i.e. policies on smoking, violence, car accidents specifically)

  4. Environmental issues

The most important drivers affecting US mortality beyond the next decade, according to forum members, were similar, but in a different order:

  1. Socioeconomic status (SES) inequality

  2. Individual behaviour issues

  3. Genetics/pathways affecting ageing

  4. Social policy (access to healthcare)

  5. Environmental issues

Ageing as the biggest driver of mortality

The report states that while some of us will outlive our birth cohort’s life expectancy, just by healthy living, we can expect to at least meet our average life expectancy with healthy living. This is the behaviour part of our life expectancy - smoking, eating well, exercising, having a healthy weight, and avoiding stress.

Behaviour, the report notes, is also affected by a fundamental lack of equality (SES) in some key areas. It is well observed that, for example, you are more likely to smoke if you are in the low socioeconomic bracket. This also applies to obesity.

Using Seventh Day Adventists as an example of peak human life expectancy

The report uses a group of Seventh Day Adventists as a study group, because this group doesn’t drink, smoke or mix genes much. The diet is vegetarian and exercise regular. This provides a solid study group in terms of life expectancy just by healthy living, and there does seem to be advantages, but these are limited. This group’s life expectancy is 86 for men and 89 for women - an advantage of 8-9 years on non-Adventists.

Some interesting findings from the report

  • Environmental issues (global warming, pollution) may have a major direct and indirect effect on health in the medium-long term

  • Those with a higher education benefit first from research and new technology, and drive differences in population mortality

  • Even a one-year life extension comes at a cost to society for insurance, pensions and annuities

  • The food supply chain of sugar, salt, and fat will take discipline to interrupt further

  • The point of interventions should not be to indiscriminately prolong life, but to push the first age-related disease out

  • The mortality gains seen in the US are slower than in most other high-income countries

Download the full Drivers of U.S. Mortality Improvement Expert Panel Forum Report