• Posted on: 10 June 2022

Longer life = healthy life? New study by Dr. Cruz and colleagues sheds light on an important question

Gains in Filipinos’ life expectancy are an understated feat in public health. In 1970, a Filipino man and woman who survived the age of 60 were expected to live for only 16 and 17 more years, respectively. In 2018, a man and woman who just turned 60 can live an average of 17 and 22 additional years, respectively.

Filipino Lola, by Bo Insogna, 2013, Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

One question that has troubled aging experts at the turn of the century, however, is whether such gains in the average years of life actually translate into more years in good health or only prolonged disability among older persons.

This question is the subject of a new study by UP Population Institute (UPPI) colleagues Dr. Grace T. Cruz, Ms. Christian Joy P. Cruz, and Dr. Yasuhiko Saito. Recently published in Geriatrics and Gerontology International, their study examined how the latest evidence in the Philippines supports two competing theories on the nexus of aging and health.

The expansion of morbidity, on the one hand, is a scenario in which longer life means longer years spent in disability. The compression of morbidity, on the other hand, carries the more optimistic view that gains in longevity are accompanied by the delay in the onset of diseases and thus more years lived in good health.

Using the 2007 Philippine Study on Aging and the 2018 Longitudinal Study of Ageing and Health in the Philippines, which they also led, the study authors found that while the life expectancies at age 60 increased between 2007 and 2018, the average years spent in active health have been declining over the same period. They also found that although women are living longer than men, they also spend more years in an unhealthy and inactive state.

“Given all this, our analysis suggests no evidence of the country’s compression of morbidity for the period covered,” the authors wrote.

The study, which was the first to compare older Filipinos’ health expectancies between two time points, highlights the need for interventions to ensure that older persons are able to maximize their remaining years. In particular, the authors called on the government to “promote a life course approach” in its policies to improve health-promoting behaviors and reduce the risk of chronic diseases early in life.