A recent study by the University of Washington, published in the medical journal The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, predicts that Spain will be leader in life expectancy in the world by the year 2040. Among 195 countries and territories, Spaniards would lead the ranking with a life expectancy of 85.8 years of age (almost three years higher than the current average). With the most optimistic forecasts, this figure would rise further, to 87.4 years. Currently, Spain is in fourth position, behind Japan, Switzerland and Singapore.
What are the keys to the success of the Spaniards to lead the life expectancy forecasts for 2040? To answer this question it is necessary to consider, on the one hand, the characteristics of the study and, on the other, the peculiarities of life expectancy in our country.
To make these predictions, researchers from the Institute for Metrics and Health Assessment (IHME) at the University of Washington have considered 250 different causes of death from the project Global burden of disease WHO, 79 protective and health risk factors and health trends of the 195 countries analyzed between 1990 and 2016. They have also considered multiple scenarios (forecasted, worst and best scenario) and, in addition, the data of the study they are constantly updated as more information is available on the statistics of each country in the world.
Behind this research there is a mammoth task that has made it possible to collect and analyze a huge amount of data from almost 200 countries. Thus, the main objective was to make predictions about the life expectancy of these countries until the year 2040 and obtain a global overview of this possible evolution. In this way, investigating in depth about the causes why a particular country has a certain life expectancy and this evolves over time is something that did not fit within the objectives of the study. In other words, the study focuses mainly on explaining "what could happen" to help plan and implement more effective health measures, but not on the "why".
Even in spite of these limitations, Dr. Christopher Murray (director of the IHME and leader of the study), asked about the privileged situation of Spain, has explained the results within the methods used in the study. According to the predictions of his group, the greatest health risks in the near future are the consumption of tobacco and alcohol, high blood glucose in fasting, high blood pressure and a high body mass index. According to Murray: "Spain does very well in the above, although tobacco is one aspect that could improve." In addition, it points to the diet as one of the keys by which it surpasses the rest of the countries.
Now, we must take into account the limitations of the study. On the one hand, the predictions made by this study until 2040 are based, among other factors, on the health characteristics of the countries between 1990 and 2016. As the researchers affirm, "the prediction is not what will happen, but what is more likely to happen if past trends and relationships continue in the future. "
Until 2040, there could be a multitude of unpredictable events that upset the figures considerably (wars, epidemics, recessions …). The same authors point out, among the limitations that could change the forecasts, factors such as climate change or increased resistance to antibiotics, which have not been included in the study. Spain, by the way, is the advanced country that more antibiotics consume and the deaths from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have skyrocketed in recent years. So it makes sense to be cautious about our future global "victory" in life expectancy.
Why does Dr. Murray point to diet as one of the factors that encumbra to Spain for 2040? Although it is true that the life expectancy in a country depends on a multitude of factors that are often interrelated, it is known that diet is one of the factors that plays an important role in this matter. A bad diet increases the risk of obesity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and many other health problems that increase mortality. Precisely, that is one of the reasons why the life expectancy of the United States is so low (78.7 years), despite being a developed country (it is in position 43 and it is predicted that it will descend to position 64 in the world).
Given that the predictions of this study on life expectancy for 2040 are based on the evolution of this in our country between 1990 and 2016, knowing the main factors that have contributed will help us to understand the forecasts. Both Ignacio Rosell, a specialist in preventive medicine and public health, an associate professor at the University of Valladolid, and Carlos Fernández, a resident doctor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health of the Carlos III Health Institute, highlight the importance of the lifestyles of Spaniards and Diet as factors that have more weight in our current life expectancy. Thanks to this, mortality due to cardiovascular diseases in Spain is low compared with other developed countries. As Fernández clarifies: we have not "given time" to suffer modern habits as much as other European countries.
What are also the factors that have most influenced Spain since 1990 until now to increase life expectancy? Both Rosell and Fernandez agree on the improvements in medical treatments and healthcare in our country and the sharp decrease in deaths due to traffic accidents. Rosell adds, in addition, that "the policies that have allowed to improve the lifestyles of the population" and the remarkable reduction of the infant mortality rate.
Thus, we Spaniards have reason to be proud to lead the first positions in life expectancy in the world, both now and in the forecasts. However, there is a nuance behind that leaves a bit bittersweet feeling as Rosell explains: "Life expectancy is to live for many years, but it does not necessarily mean living many years well, in Spain we have many years of life, but not so much quality in final years of life. "