The Newly-Crowned World's Oldest Person Is 115


Japan is dominating longevity.

115-year-old Jiroemon Kimura was named the World's Oldest Person on December 17.[AP]

A Japanese man this week became the World's Oldest Person, having lived 115 years across three centuries.

Jiroemon Kimura, of Tokyo, is "particularly fond of red bean cake and rice," and, befitting a man of his stature, spends most of his day in bed. If he makes it just 9 more days, to December 28, he'll be the Oldest Living Man Ever on Record.

Striking the right combination of genes, diet, and lifestyle to get to the point of being World's Oldest anything probably feels a lot like Stephen King's The Long Walk -- you aren't celebrated for having reached a certain age so much as for having continued to make your way steadily along, while one by one the competition drops off around you. And then, once you're the last one standing, you might as well keep going, because, hey, you made it this far.

The former reigning World's Oldest Person, Iowa's Dina Manfredini, passed away Monday, at the age of 115. Before that, it was Besse Cooper, of Georgia, who was knocked out of the running earlier in the month. She had made it to 116.

Regardless of how you feel about contests of endurance, with Cooper's death came the end of Americans being particularly good at them. That means no more endorsement of her typical American style of eating -- she claimed that she never ate junk food, aside from the occasional potato chip, and, although she listed bacon, eggs, and fried chicken among her favorite dishes, her son adds that she "ate a lot of vegetables."

Instead, the new world's oldest woman, Koto Obuko, is 114 and also hails from Japan. So a lot of New Year's Resolutions for 2013 are likely going to involve variations on the low-fat, low-sugar Japanese diet, which is widely credited for the country's overall longevity, along with its universal health care system. 

And Japan's oldest people are backed up by a strong farm team. Last week's release of the Global Burden of Disease study puts the country at number one on the list of national life expectancies: 79 years for men and 86 for women (over a worldwide average of 67 and 73, respectively). They're also ahead of everyone else in "healthy life expectancy," meaning they enjoy around 70 years before they start suffering through prolonged disease and disability.  In the U.S., men and women can expect to live to 76 and 81, and we're 32nd in the world for years of good health. If the U.S. wants to up its stamina and reclaim its standing, Americans are going to need to make some changes.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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