Issue 16 / 18 October 2010

FROM antiquity, we have observed that the lifespan of humankind appears to have had a set point.

The Old Testament proclaimed it to be “three score and ten”, or 70 years, although this projection was inevitably curtailed by drought, famine, plague and warfare.

However, in modern advanced societies, longevity often comfortably exceeds 70 years, and regularly approaches or exceeds a century.

There is now a widespread fixation on this parameter as a marker of the health of societies and its inclusion in reports on the health status of countries is mandatory.

Not so long ago, a media release from the Victorian Minister for Health proudly proclaimed: “Life expectancy for Victorians is among the highest in Australia and higher than most other countries in the world … These new figures really do mean Victoria is the place to live, work and raise a family.”*

In short, there appears to be some truth in the state’s slogan: “Victoria — the place to be”.

But there is a new twist: longevity is now localised to various state municipalities and shires.

Not only are we regaled with Victoria’s statewide figures, but also the life expectancy in all of its 79 local government areas, which are then compared with the state’s average.

For Victorian males, the place to be is in Boroondara, Nillumbik or Melbourne and, for females, Melbourne, Surf Coast, Moonee Valley or Stonnington.

So who will capitalise on these data?

Will local doctors and health facilities be given longevity bonuses for their excellent services?

Will real estate agents exploit the relative longevity status of different metropolitan areas and use it to promote communities and house sales?

Will politicians be judged on the longevity data of their electorates?

Or perhaps signposts welcoming travellers into suburbs or shires will proudly proclaim: “You are now entering Blue Hills. Population: 3000. Local life expectancy: 85 years.”

The possibilities are boundless.

Dr Martin Van Der Weyden is the Editor of the MJA.

This article is reproduced from the MJA with permission.

*Andrews D, Minister for Health. Victoria tops the life expectancy table [media release]. 14 Nov 2008. Melbourne: Office of the Premier of Victoria, 2008.

Med J Aust 2010; 193; 433.

Posted18 October 2010

One thought on “Martin Van Der Weyden: Longevity and the place to be

  1. Peter Arnold says:

    While Van Der Weyden comments wittily on increasing Australian ‘longevity status’, he might unwittingly be misleading his readers and the public.

    What percentage of our long-lived population are lying in nursing homes, unaware of their environs, unable to participate meaningfully in any activities? We know that the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias increases with an ageing population.

    Surely the true measure of longevity is years of health at least good enough for the individual to be living, not merely existing? Quantity isn’t everything – quality matters.

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