Last year, Switzerland tied with Iceland for the prize of longest male life expectancy, according to the OECD.
In this year’s report, published last Friday, Switzerland slipped into second place alongside Japan.
Male life expectancy in Switzerland declined. It moved from 81.1 years to 80.8, a drop of 0.3 years. At the same time life expectancy for men in Iceland rose from 81.1 to 81.2. Iceland moved forward while Switzerland slipped back, leaving a gap of 0.4 years between the former co-winners.
Lifestyle and environmental differences might explain the longevity gap, although it’s unlikely habits and environment have changed much in a year.
Iceland beats Switzerland in a number of areas. The report looks at four: smoking, alcohol, obesity and air pollution.
Iceland scores particularly well on three of them. Icelandic men breathe cleaner air – 7.8 mg/m3 mean annual exposure to PM2.5, drink less alcohol: 6.2 litres on average per year, and only 9.5% smoke daily.
Compared to Iceland, Swiss men are more likely to smoke every day (23.1%), drink more alcohol (11.2 litres on average per year), and breathe dirtier air (12.9 mg/m3 mean annual exposure to PM2.5). Fewer Swiss men are obese however: 11.2% compared to 19.2% in Iceland 1.
Being one of the top three out of 35 countries for life expectancy at birth is a good result. However it is only one measure of health success. On another, healthy life years, Switzerland’s men don’t fare as well.
Healthy life expectancy is the number of disability free years, typically measured from the age of 65. The question asks: “For at least the past six months, have you been hampered because of a health problem in activities people usually do?”
On this measure Switzerland’s men (10.6) sit well behind Sweden’s (15.7), Iceland’s (15.5), and Norway’s (15.3) 2. And, unlike the small difference in life expectancy, an extra five years of good health is a decent stretch. On this measure, the lifestyle and environmental differences set out above might have more impact.
The OECD notes that there is a strong positive correlation between education level and healthy life expectancy.
There also seems to be a positive correlation with ski length, but we only found one data point, so unfortunately the result doesn’t hold up statistically. Art Furrer, based in Riederalp in Valais is known for having the world’s longest skis. He turned 80 this year. From the video below, shot in February, it’s clear he’s still going strong, and long.
These healthy-life-year numbers are averages, so not every man in Switzerland will need to hang up his skis at 75.6 (65 + 10.6).
Art Furrer didn’t.