First News
Volume:7, Number:34
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Living
THIS WEEK

Exceeding 90

| Shahana Sultana |

A study in the Lancet medical journal shows a significant rise in life expectancy in most of the 35 developed countries studied

Scientists have predicted for the first time that life expectancy will soon exceed 90 years, overturning all the assumptions about human longevity that prevailed at the beginning of the 20th century. Women born in South Korea in 2030 are forecast to have a life expectancy of 90, a study has found. But other developed countries are not far behind, raising serious questions about the health and social care that will be needed by large numbers of the population living through their 80s.

The findings are from an international team of scientists funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the US Environmental Protection Agency, and come with caveats. It is impossible to accurately forecast the natural disasters, disease outbreaks or climate changes that may take a toll of lives around the world. But the study in the Lancet medical journal shows a significant rise in life expectancy in most of the 35 developed countries studied. A notable exception is the US, where a combination of obesity, deaths of mothers and babies at birth, homicides and lack of equal access to healthcare is predicted to cause life expectancy to rise more slowly than in most comparable countries. Boys born in 2030 in the US may expect to have similar life spans to those in the Czech Republic, the study suggests, and girls will have life expectancy similar to those in Croatia and Mexico. Life expectancy for babies born in the US in 2030 is predicted to be 83.3 in 2030 for women and 79.5 for men, a small rise from the 2010 figures of 81.2 and 76.5 respectively.

The authors point out that the US is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development without universal healthcare coverage. Not only does the US have high and rising health inequalities, but also life expectancy has stagnated or even declined in some population subgroups, write the study authors. The big winners are South Korea, some western European countries, and some emerging economies. France is second in the league table for women – as it was in 2010 – at 88.6 years, and Japan is third on 88.4 years after decades with the longest life expectancy in the world. Men born in 2030 are predicted to enjoy life expectancy of 84.1 years in South Korea and 84 years in Australia and Switzerland.

The UK is 21st in the league table for women, with a predicted life expectancy at birth in 2030 of 85.2 years, and 14th for men, whose life expectancy is predicted to be 82.5 years. The study incorporates 21 different models of life expectancy to try to come to a definitive prediction of the future, but the authors say there is still uncertainty. There is a 97 percent probability that women’s life expectancy at birth in 2030 in South Korea will be higher than 86.7 years and 57 percent probability that it will exceed 90 years.

South Korea’s league-topping performance is due to improvements in its economy and education, say the authors. Deaths among children and adults from infectious diseases have dropped and nutrition has improved, which has also led to South Koreans growing taller. Obesity, which causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart problems and cancer, has not become a huge issue and fewer women smoke than in most western countries. Other countries with high projected life expectancy such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand have high-quality healthcare to prevent and treat cancer and heart disease, few infant deaths, and low smoking and road traffic injury rates, says the paper. In France and Switzerland, a lower proportion of women are overweight or obese. Our increasing lifespan will require more attention to the health and social needs of elderly people, say the authors.

Less Social, Less Criminal

The older generation always complains that the younger ones are unruly and goodfor- nothing. But a group of Danish researchers says kids these days are actually on their best behavior. Rannva Moller Thomsen, an analyst with the Danish Crime Prevention Council, claimed that Denmark has a growing trend towards a much more law-abiding youth. A recent long-term study funded by the council found that the share of 14-to-15-year olds who confessed to shoplifting at least one time dropped from 46 percent in 1989 to 17 percent in 2016. The number of other types of crimes committed similarly decreased.

There are numerous possible explanations. Committing crimes has become more difficult because of improved safety mechanisms in cars or homes, researchers argue. Moreover, education reforms may have resulted in a greater emphasis among younger students on their performance in school, making them less likely to commit crimes. But the most surprising explanation may be the simplest one: the Internet. Moller Thomsen explained that when young people spend time together in public spaces or meet privately and unwatched, the likelihood of them committing crimes increases. According to him, many young people spend significantly more time online today than they did a few years ago. Overall, they are less social — but also less criminal.

Susan McVie, a professor of quantitative criminology at the University of Edinburgh, agreed that fewer outdoor activities may also mean less time “hanging around in public places and exposing themselves to potentially delinquent activities,” but cautioned that more research was needed to prove the link with certainty. The researchers relied on selfreporting of crimes in anonymous questionnaires instead of using publicly accessible official num- CRIME Living Danish children and teenagers spend more time alone than their peers elsewhere in the world, according to a WHO report in 2016 Rezaul Karim bers. They think that crimes committed by younger people are often not sufficiently reflected in the official statistics. The data collected by government agencies across Europe shows that the crime level drop is not unique to Denmark.

But Danish children and teenagers also spend more time alone than their peers elsewhere in the world, according to a 2016 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), so there may be other possible explanations for the crime level drops in different countries. In Britain, where youth crime levels have also sharply fallen, government and privately owned initiatives have been praised for creating organized activities that keep kids away from both the streets and from their computers and smartphones. Efforts to keep young people away from the Internet are based on the controversial argument that children and teenagers may be behind a recent rise in crimes committed online. McVie said that there is an increasing amount of evidence to show that young people that are traditionally more likely to take part in street-based crime are also the most likely to engage in online forms of fraud or violence.

Other types of online crimes, such as the illegal streaming of films or music, are also on the rise, she said. It is a trend, which has led to discussions whether online downloads, should be compared with offenses such as shoplifting. But, at least in Denmark, there has been little evidence that crimes committed by youths online have compensated for the drop in more ordinary crimes. Moller Thomsen would like to believe that what they “have observed, however, is that 14- to 15-year olds are increasingly likely to turn into victims online rather than into offenders.

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