Studies show healthy living extending life even longer

What the effects are is the focus of a meeting held in St. Pete Beach.

Published May 29, 2007

For the first time since its founding, an international organization that promotes the use of health expectancy research for public policy and planning brought its annual meeting to Florida.

About 45 members of Reseau Esperance de Vie en Sante, or REVES, gathered for three days last week at the TradeWinds Resort on St. Pete Beach. Last year members of the international network met in the Netherlands. Next year's conference will take place in either Singapore or the Philippines.

The theme of this year's meeting, which drew members from North and South America, Europe and Asia, focused on healthy behavior and how it would affect length and quality of life.

Jean-Marie Robine, a demographer from Montpelier, France, and one of the founders of the organization, said the group was started in 1989. Researchers noticed, he said, that in the 1970s, there had been a marked increase in life expectancy among older people. However, though they were living longer, they appeared to be doing so with disabilities. In the 1980s and '90s, that trend changed, with people living longer but apparently with fewer disabilities.

"So the question is: Is that still continuing? And so that's one of the reasons we keep meeting, to keep a watch on this, " said Sandy Reynolds, associate professor at the University of South Florida School of Aging Studies and host of this year's conference. Reynolds said she is concerned about the response of governments to reports of longer life expectancy.

"That causes them to become complacent about how much long-term care we're going to need and it concerns me, because the evidence of decreasing disability is not consistent and they are not taking into consideration the enormous increase in obesity and its link to disability, " Reynolds said.

Robine, research director at the French Institute on Health and Medical Research, said governments and health care professionals need to begin planning now.

REVES' purpose always has been to explore trends in health expectancy across the globe, a booklet describing the conference states.

"As we learn more about increasing longevity and developing trends in morbidity and disability, we need to expand our knowledge of the causes of trends in health expectancy, and the potential of researchers, policymakers and health professionals to influence these trends, " it says.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Tips for longer life

1. Exercise.

2. Stop smoking.

3. Eat nutritious foods.

4. Maintain a healthy weight.

Around the world

Countries with the longest life expectancy at birth, 2000-05:

1. Japan, 81.6 years

2. Sweden, 80.1 years

3. Hong Kong (China), 79.9 years

Average life expectancy worldwide: 65.4 years

Source: United Nations report