Lives around the world are getting longer, and have been for a long time. But more time isn’t always better—the question is if humanity is gaining more good years of life. Discussions about end of life care are starting to recognize this nuance, that just because modern medicine can keep someone alive doesn’t mean it should in every circumstance.
But even before those decisions have to be made, the question remains: “Are we living longer healthy lives as well as longer lives?” So asks a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The researchers, from the University of Southern California and Nihon University in Tokyo, looked at data about general life expectancy in the United States from 1970 to 2010 , as well as life expectancy with disability and without. (Disability was defined as “having any limitation of activity.”)
This research digs deeper into what a longer average lifespan really means. Are some people staying healthy longer while those who get sick die more quickly? (The study calls this option “compression of morbidity.”) Are we just better at treating illness which means more sick people are living longer? Or are both healthy and unhealthy people seeing years added to their lives in relatively equal measure?