Although both terms refer to the number of years of life, they actually define very different concepts. While the term life expectancy refers to the maximum number of years a person can live, life expectancy refers to an estimate or the average number of years a person can expect to live. Data on life expectancy showed that not every year after the age of 60 will one live in full health. In fact, it is estimated that a quarter of the years after age 60 were due to illness or injury.
Between 2000 and 2002, both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy increased; the population now lives longer and spends more years in good health. For both men and women aged 65, the absolute increases in life expectancy have been greater than the absolute increase in healthy life expectancy and, as a result, there has been an increase in the number of years lived in poor health. However, when comparing the results of groups with very different life expectancies, the proportion of life spent in poor health is also useful. Healthy life expectancy at birth is an estimate of the average number of years that babies born this year would live in a state of “good” general health if the levels of mortality at each age and the level of good health at each age remained constant in the future.
In recent decades, the life expectancy of men has increased faster than that of women and the gap in life expectancy is now less than 4 years, compared with 6 years in 1981.If this trend continues, older adults can expect to not only live longer but also to live an increasingly healthy life. Overall life expectancy ranged from 60.0 years in the WHO African region to 76.8 years in the WHO European region. The same was true for women (figure); however, the proportion of past lives in poor health remained at 20% for men and 23% for women. The measure of healthy life expectancy adds a dimension of “quality of life” to estimates of life expectancy by dividing it over time spent in different states of health.
The highest healthy life expectancy (HLE) was seen in Hawaii, with 16.2 years of additional good health, and the lowest was seen in Mississippi, with just 10.8 years of additional good health. While there have been improvements in overall life expectancy, children born today in the United States may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Healthy life expectancy at 60 (HALE60), or the expected number of years of healthy life after 60, provides significant insight into the potential quality of life of older adults. In all regions of the world, the HALE60 was about a quarter shorter than the LE60, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.
However, healthy life expectancy seemed to be recovering and growing at a faster rate in all regions. Average life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are major important measures of the health status of the population.