Although people in Singapore are living longer than anyone else in the world, they also languish more years in ill-health says a new study.

The study by Singapore’s Ministry of Health done in collaboration with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington, provided an in-depth look at diseases, injuries and risk factors that cause mortality and morbidity in Singapore across time, and also shows how the country compares internationally.

The study titled, ‘Singapore Burden of Disease Report 2017’ said that the expected life span in Singapore is 84.8 years – higher than runner-up Japan’s life span by over six months. Singaporeans on average have 74.2 healthy years, which is also the highest in the world, but how long life is spent in poor health is also on the rise.


This means that for Singaporeans who were born in 2017, they could “expect to live for 84.8 years, but of that 10.6 of those years would be spent in poor health”, whereas those born in 1990 would only live nine years in poor health.

Early deaths and disabilities in Singapore are most often been caused by diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental illness.

But since 1990, age-driven health conditions like hearing loss, dementia and musculoskeletal degeneration have seen the swiftest rate of increase. A number of these diseases and conditions though, do not prevent people from living good lives.

“Many of these chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and high blood lipids are asymptomatic conditions unless complications set in. Apart from proper management of these conditions through lifestyle and medication, it is equally important to adopt a ‘sick but well’ mindset. In other words, although I am biologically sick, I am not going to let it affect my well-being and continue to be resilient, engaged and productive.”

Professor Chia Kee Seng, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore

A person can live with disabilities at other times in his or her life, not only during the senior years. For example, this can occur after an accident and a person is recovering, or a time of depression, or a period of increased disability due to chronic back pain.

The study highlighted some important statistics about disability and overall health:
  • 11 percent of disability is caused by injuries, over half (6.2 percent) of which is called by accidental injuries like falls. 2.5 percent is from self-harm, and two percent is from road accidents
  • 26 percent of disability years for youths aged 10 through 34 years old is due to mental disorders
  • for people in their middle ages, musculoskeletal conditions are a big contributing factor to disability
  • for women, the peak ages for cancer are 55 to 59, and women mainly suffer from breast and reproductive system cancers
  • for men, the peak ages for cancer are 70 to 74, and men mainly suffer from lung, colorectal, liver and prostate cancers
  • the main risk factors for poor health wherein people can make changes are diet, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes

According to the study, Singapore faces challenges which are shared by many other countries in the world, and that the goal of longer lifespans with less time spent living in illness has not been achieved consistently by any country.

IHME said in October last year that by 2040, Singaporeans will live till the age of 85.4 years, which is the third highest around the globe. Spain is expected to have the longest lifetime by then, at 85.8 years, followed by Japan, at 85.7 years.

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