Question Time: How does healthy life expectancy vary by Country?

by | Dec 22, 2015

I’m on number four of my blog series looking at Open Data sets, using Qlik and Trifacta. So far they’ve been very New Zealand focused, but this week we’re taking over the world! … well mapping it.
I’ve been playing with the World Health Organisation (WHO) Data, looking at a few stats across the globe and finding out who the lucky ones are, and how health varies across our planet.
In order to measure health, let’s start with the variation of lifespans by Country. We will look at the numbers for people healthy at birth. One thing to note, there’s a couple of countries which are grey, this is due to the data not being available, the most prominent is Greenland.
Average Lifespan, Healthy at Birth by Country
The heat map shows the average number of healthy years an individual is likely to live by country. New Zealand and Australia are among those with the biggest longevity, along with the UK, Canada, Scandinavia, Japan and parts of western Europe. It’s not surprising that these countries have longer lifespans, but what did shock me was the average age in Africa. While I expected the healthy lifespan to be less I was surprised by how much less, with an average healthy age of less than 44 for some countries, it makes me feel very fortunate to live where I do. It also makes me sad for those that don’t have the same health enabling systems that we take for granted.
If we cross reference these countries with publicly funded health systems, we can see a strong correlation between them and longevity of healthy lives. Please note, this data is not substantiated, it’s based on my research and reading.
Publicly Funded Health Services
The modal healthy life expectancy for countries with a publicly funded health system is 72, with the average across all countries being 65. This does suggest that public health systems are effective at keeping their population healthy for longer. One of the interesting questions I couldn’t get the data for was whether the amount spent on healthcare per 1,000 people has a correlation with the healthy lifespan of the population. If there is no correlation it would be a good indicator as to the effectiveness of those health care systems.
When comparing the genders we can see that on average women live longer than men, not surprisingly. The biggest age gaps occur in Russia and Belarus where women live on average 11 years longer. There are some exceptions however; in Kuwait and Qatar the number of healthy years for men is expected to be 1 year longer than women. It’s a similar story for Mali and Tonga with 2 years and 3 years respectively in favour of the males, but in the majority of countries the females lead on the number of healthy years they are expected to live.
Healthy Life Expectancy - Gender Comparison
Overall, it seems if you’re a female living in Japan or Singapore you’re expected to have the healthiest lifespan up to the average age of 78. For men Singapore is the place to be with an expected healthy lifespan of 75 with Japan coming in at 72. Interestingly though Japan isn’t the second highest for men, with Cyprus and San Marino coming in just over at 73.
The significant ages in Singapore piqued my interest and it seems that it’s held up as an example of great healthcare. I found many case studies explaining why they believe their system is so effective. The first part seems to be a clear manifesto and the ability to directly intervene if the healthcare market isn’t effective at keeping the cost down. It helps that the population is small and over a small area, although the approach is believed to be scalable. NZ has a smaller population than Singapore, but with an average healthy lifespan of four years less it would be interesting to see why there’s such a difference.
Keep exploring! Daniel.
Data Sources
World Health Organisation
Country Boundaries

  1. S Gregovic

    Hi Dan. A good article. One gap in the second map – I strongly suspect that both PRC and Russia (still) have large public health care systems, as do some Eastern European countries not marked as such in the second map above.

    • Daniel Reed

      Hi, thanks – It’s possible I’ve missed off a few countries for the public health systems as it was based on my research as opposed to a sourced data set.
      For China, I found that while the country has made reforms to try and make healthcare more affordable, it’s still an insurance model rather than free healthcare available to all.
      For Russia, from what I could tell it’s funded via a combination of tax and private insurance rather than solely public funded healthcare which is the reason it was excluded, although healthcare is available to all so maybe would have been a good candidate for the map.
      Thanks for the feedback.

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