This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

How Many Healthy Years Will You Have in Old Age?

The population of the United States is aging, as everyone knows. In particular, we have a big bulge of baby boomers who keep pushing up the number of older people. Eventually they will all die off and the ratio of older to younger people will be a little less stressful than it currently is. In the meantime, one of the big issues is the cost of health care to the growing number of elderly. The healthier is this group of seniors, the less they will cost, and the happier will the younger taxpayers be. It is not just life expectancy, but rather it is healthy life expectancy (the number of healthy years you have left) that is important for you (because the quality is life is better if you are healthy) and for society (since healthy people cost less). 

As it turns out, researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health have put their research results to good use by generating the Healthy Life Calculator. The underlying calculations are based on data they collected (and are still collecting) in their Cardiovascular Health Study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The background information is available from their article published in the journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. Using a relatively limited set of questions--only 11 variables, including age, sex, smoking history, activities of daily living (ADLs), and the number of medicines taken each day, they are able to compare your life expectancy (based on U.S. life tables) with your health life expectancy. The information is limited enough that you could do this not only for yourself, if you are 65 or older, but you probably can make good estimates for your parents and/or grandparents, if they are 65 or older. 

As an example, if you are currently a 65-year female who is in excellent health, never smoked, has no problem with ADLs, takes no medications, and gets a good amount of exercise, your can expect to live an additional 22.8 years, of which 19.3 can be expected to be healthy. That's good news for you and for society in general. Note, by the way, that the calculator also provides you with information on the chances that your healthy life expectancy will be either higher or lower. As your health indicators increase in severity, of course, your healthy life expectancy will decrease, even if your overall life expectancy does not. That's neither good for you nor society, so for everybody's sake, no matter how old you currently are, try to be healthier, OK?

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