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Kiwis living longer than before - report

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2013

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New Zealanders are expected to live longer today than 20 years ago, but are dying younger than Australians, new international research shows.

Health data for countries around the world was published as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study 2010, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The data showed the average life expectancy for a New Zealander had increased 5.4 years in 20 years - from 75.3 in 1990 to 80.7 in 2010.

However, the average New Zealander could expect to spend almost 11 years of their life suffering from disability or disease.

New Zealand's results placed it 7th on a list of 20 countries of similar affluence - four places behind Australia, where people are expected to live 70.1 healthy years and 81.5 years overall.

Kiwis can expect to live longer than those in Britain though, where the average life expect- ancy is 79.9 and the United States, where it is 78.2.

Professor Tim Wilkinson, of the University of Otago's Christchurch campus, said New Zealand's life expectancy could be lower than Australia's because there was a higher proportion of indigenous people in the New Zealand population.

"I think it's probably fair to say the Maori population is still disadvantaged to compared to the Pakeha population in New Zealand.

"There's that inequity that's really important to address."

Australia's indigenous population had an "abysmal" life expectancy, but the country's overall rate was not affected because their indigenous population was relatively smaller, he said.

More than 500 researchers from around the world were involved in the GBD study, which looked at health loss by age, sex, and geography over time.

"Our goal is to help governments and citizens make well-informed decisions about health policies and investments by arming them with information that is up-to-date, comprehensive, and accurate," IHME director Dr Christopher Murray said.

"With these new ways of making the data understandable, people everywhere for the first time can see the incredible progress being made in health and the daunting challenges that remain."

The data showed the leading cause of death in New Zealand in 2010 was ischemic heart disease - the same as it was 20 years before - and poor diet was still the country's biggest health risk factor.

Wilkinson said the data showed how important preventive action was for keeping people healthier longer.

"They're things we can actually do something about," he said.

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"From a geriatric medicine perspective the goal has always been to try and improve quality of life rather than just quantity of life."

In 1990, lower respiratory infections were the fifth-leading cause of death, but in 2010 it had been replaced by Alzheimer's disease, which had increased by a staggering 346 per cent in 20 years.

In 1990, Alzheimer's was the 16th most common cause of death, killing about 328 people. In 2010 it was the fifth-leading cause of death, responsible for killing about 1463 people.

AT A GLANCE

NZ'S TOP FIVE CAUSES OF DEATH:

Heart disease
Stroke
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Lung cancer
Alzheimer's disease

NZ'S LEADING HEALTH RISK FACTORS:

Poor diet
High blood pressure
Smoking
Obesity
Physical inactivity

- The Press

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