Authors: Jeanette Torres
(TOKYO) -- When it comes to longevity, the Japanese have long been number one.
On average, men there live until they're 79 years old, and women until they're 86.
Healthy living is a source of national pride in the Land of the Rising Sun, but a new study says the life expectancy of Japanese are shrinking. The report, published in the British Medical Journal, says suicides and smoking are on the rise, and that means longevity is on the decline.
Author Dr. Christopher Murphy attributes the health problems to major financial and social challenges facing the country, including economic stagnation, political turmoil, and an aging population. Dr. Murphy, affiliated with the University of Washington, says it's all taking a toll, by increasing the population's stress levels, tobacco use, and overall anxiety. Japan's public health system isn't addressing the problems, and that's leading to the country's slow decline.
Japanese health care has long been seen as the perfect model. Infant mortality and infectious diseases declined for decades following World War II. The system managed to provide universal health coverage for a relatively low price, and the culture taught people to treat health as a social responsibility, not just a personal issue.
But Japan is changing. The rapidly aging population has made the country the oldest in the world, where the average age is 40 years old. Some of those who don't die of old age take their own lives out of depression in increasing numbers.
At least 30,000 have committed suicide annually for the last 13 years. The study says that number will continue to increase unless the public health system acts soon.
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