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  • Research shows that the number of years people are spending in ill health is increasing, primarily due to the rising prevalence of chronic diseases, driven by unhealthy lifestyles
  • Experts call for focus on healthspan, the quality of life, alongside lifespan, the quantity of life, citing significant economic and social benefits
  • Pioneering algorithm by Vitality, in collaboration with RAND Europe, can for the first time predict an individual’s healthspan (the number of years lived in good health) and their future health risks
  • The research demonstrates that a few, simple changes to lifestyle behaviours can have an enormous impact on healthspan and quality of life
  • Research will be launched and discussed at an international conference, chaired by Gillian Tett and with speakers such as Professor Yuval Noah Harari and Adrian Gore

12 October 2021 – Vitality today reveals the results of research that quantifies the widening gap between lifespan (life expectancy) and healthspan (the number of years lived in good health) globally, reflecting a diminishing quality of life in later years. Alongside this research, Vitality and RAND Europe have developed a pioneering algorithm that will allow individuals, for the first time, to understand how their lifestyle choices impact both their length and quality of life, enabling them to take actions that will maximise the number of years that they spend in good health in the future.

The research and algorithm will be launched at Vitality’s global conference chaired by author and anthropologist, Gillian Tett, with keynote speakers Professor Yuval Noah Harari and Discovery / Global Vitality CEO, Adrian Gore, to debate solutions for improving the future health of individuals and populations.

The research highlights an average 15% increase since 1990 in the number of years that people will spend in ill health over their lifetimes, from 8.5 years to 9.8 years, which equates to approximately 18% of the average lifespan.[1] China has seen a significant increase of 19% to 9.1 years, with the UK and USA both seeing a 14% increase in the same timeframe, meaning the average number of years spent in ill health in these nations is close to 12 years and 13.5 years respectively. This outcome follows population health strategies that prioritise treatment over prevention, and greater sophistication of healthcare treatments and technologies that have enabled people to live for longer with disease.

Extending healthy life years will deliver significant economic and social benefits. Currently, the world spends $8.5 trillion or 10% of GDP on healthcare delivery with only 5% going towards prevention services. Reducing the disease burden by just 10% through more preventive policies and individual-level behaviour change could prevent up to 93 million healthy years of life being lost globally each year. 

To create greater awareness and accountability at an individual level, the new algorithm, developed by Vitality in collaboration with RAND Europe, will provide individuals with a personalised view of their lifespan and healthspan, as well as bespoke recommendations for improving these measures.

These recommendations consider the individual’s age, gender, health status, and current lifestyle choices to ensure that the prescribed actions are suitable and will have the greatest possible impact on health. The model shows that even modest behaviour change can materially reduce health risk over time. For example, an average[2] 30-year-old man could increase his healthspan by 1.5 years just by introducing 20 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. However, if he improved his diet too, he could increase his healthspan by a total of 2.5 years. If he became the healthiest version of himself (by improving all his risk factors to their best levels) he would add nearly six years to his healthspan.

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See appendix for an example of age-appropriate lifestyle interventions that people can adopt over the course of their lives.

Adrian Gore, Discovery / Global Vitality Chief Executive, comments: “Incentivising positive lifestyle changes in a world forever changed by the global pandemic can have a profound impact on the health of individuals and reduce the burden on health services. Our global network of leading insurers has a unique opportunity to monetise and incentivise better future health and, given global trends, I believe we have a responsibility to act. Over the last 30 years, scientific change has driven increases in lifespan. Improving healthspan globally will require a greater focus on behaviour change – with benefits for individuals, the economy and society.”

In addition, to help overcome the cognitive and behavioural biases that prevent people from taking healthy actions today in support of their long-term health, Vitality engaged with Professor Hal Hershfield at The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to determine what exactly consumers want to know about their futures – and how they would respond to receiving personalised health forecasts. This ground-breaking research explores how to build intrinsic motivation to engage in a healthy lifestyle by speaking to people about their risks in a way they understand and that resonates with them. The research highlights the importance of actionable insights – concrete steps that people can take to improve health and life expectancy.

Professor Hal Hershfield, UCLA Anderson School of Management Professor of Marketing and Behavioral Decision Making, comments: The disconnect we experience between our current and future selves leads to suboptimal decision-making in areas of finance and health. This emotional divide between selves led us to explore a new question: What are people most interested in knowing about their futures? – since these insights can serve as a useful stepping-stone towards making healthier lifestyle choices. Knowing what information people value on this journey to wellbeing is an important factor in bridging the gulf between a person’s current and future self, and potentially towards maximising health over time.”

Some of these insights have been incorporated, along with the risk algorithm, to create a world-first public calculator of individual healthspan. Named the Vitality Healthy Futures calculator, it will be available to the public on the Vitality International website: from today (Tuesday 12th October 2021) for a limited time, with a view to integrating the analysis into Vitality’s global member platform in the coming months.

Adrian Gore concludes: “For the first time, it’s possible to deliver personal recommendations on how people can extend their healthspan and their lifespan. The possibilities for the tool are infinite and could support insurers and healthcare professionals in giving people information on how to increase the number of years they can expect to live in good health – marking a new era of behaviour change.”

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