We are living longer and staying healthy longer

The latest figures from National Statistics offer useful figures on age and health that strongly suggest that insurers need to quickly rethink the maximum age they accept new customers.

  • At birth females and males can expect 76 to 82 % of life disability-free and in good general health
  • Proportions of life spent disability-free generally increased for males and females at birth between 2004–06 and 2007–09
  • At age 65, women and men can expect 47–62 per cent of life disability-free and in good general health
  • At age 65 men now spend more of their lives in good general health than women in Wales

These figures are for healthy life expectancy (HLE) and disability-free life expectancy (DFLE) at birth and at age 65 for males and females in 2007–09 and compares this period with 2004–06.

HLE and DFLE add a dimension of the quality of life expectancy, providing users with a summary measure of the time spent in favourable and unfavourable health states which can be used to inform policy, planning and research in both public and private sectors in areas such as health, population and pensions.

As life expectancy continues to increase in the UK, it is important to ask whether these additional years of life are being spent in favourable health states or in prolonged poor health and dependency.

Health expectancies help us to address this question by adding a dimension of quality to life expectancy. There are as many health expectancies as there are measures or concepts of health. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) routinely publishes two types of health expectancy; healthy life expectancy (HLE), defined as the number of years an individual can expect to spend in very good or good general health, and disability-free life expectancy (DFLE), defined as the number of years an individual can expect to spend free from a limiting chronic illness or disability.

These estimates are, in part, based upon self-perceived general health and limiting chronic illness. The subjective nature of these measures means that they are influenced by the way individuals perceive their health; while self reports of general health and limiting illness are somewhat influenced by an individual’s expectations, clear differences are observed across socio-demographic factors such as age, sex, socioeconomic position and area deprivation. However, despite differences in expectations these measures are strong predictors of longevity and correlate well with health service use.

Health expectancies are important outcome measures and can be used to identify and monitor health inequality; for example, to support health needs assessment by identifying populations most in need and using this information to target health resources and monitor the effects of such targeting. They are also useful guides in the assessment of healthy ageing: providing intelligence on the future size of the population likely to require services associated with dependency, and those able to continue to work beyond the current state pension age.

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