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The United States consistently lags behind all other developed nations in life expectancy. The MacArthur Foundation, however, believes it has identified simple ways that Americans can expect to live to be 100 years old in the twenty-first century.

The MacArthur Foundation, best known for its "genius grants," commissioned a study of interventions that might increase the American life span in the twenty-first century. Specialists in human aging looked at several different scenarios, one in which Americans continued to depend on medications for treating their problems of aging and there are no major breakthroughs in treating the diseases of aging, and one in which Americans win their struggles with obesity and smoking, regardless of the advances in medical technology.

  • If Americans continue to struggle with smoking and obesity, and there are no major developments in disease treatment, then a baby boy born in 2050 will be expected to live to be 80 and a baby girl will be expected to live to be 83.
  • If medical researchers create cures for the most common diseases of aging, then all other things being equal, a baby boy born in 2050 will be expected to live to be 83 and a baby girl will be expected to live to be 89.
  • But if Americans stop smoking and lose weight, at least in appreciable numbers, then by 2050 the life expectancy at birth of a baby boy will be 86 and the life expectancy of a baby girl will be 89.

That's still not as good as the life expectancy now in Monaco and Japan. But it's an improvement of 7 years. However, for the millenials (the baby boomers' children) who were born in 1985 and who will be reaching the retirement age of 65 in the year 2050.

  • If Americans somehow stop smoking and learn to control their weight, by the year 2050 an American man who is turning 65 can expect to live to be 92 and a woman who is turning 65 can expect to live to be 97.
  • And baby boomers--born in 1965 and turning 85 in the year 2050--who beat their war on weight and who don't smoke can expect to live to astonishing ages. On average, a man who turns 85 in the year 2050, in this scenario, can expect to live to be 98. A woman who turns 85 in the year 2050 can expect to live to be 102. It's not strictly speaking a logical inference from these data that if you're about 30 years old now and you don't smoke and manage not to gain weight you will live to be about 100 years old, but it's not an especially far-fetched idea, either.

Americans do not have to wait on medical science to achieve extraordinary life expectancy, greater than that of any other country in the world today. They need to eat less, smoke less, and exercise more, and maybe they will live to see 100 candles on their birthday cakes.

  • Olshansky SJ, Goldman DP, Zheng Y, Rowe JW. Aging in America in the twenty-first century: demographic forecasts from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society. Milbank Q. 2009 Dec.87(4):842-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2009.00581.x.
  • Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, Layden J, Carnes BA, Brody J, Hayflick L, Butler RN, Allison DB, Ludwig DS. A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century. New England Journal of Medicine.2005. 352:1138–45.
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