Average life expectancy has risen globally to 73 years for a girl born in 2012 and 68 for a boy following successes in fighting diseases and child mortality, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
Big advances in the battles against infectious diseases such as measles, malaria, tuberculosis and polio have continued to extend life expectancy, though other factors such as lifestyle are constraining longevity.
The longest life expectancy at birth is for baby girls in Japan, at 87 years, and boys in Iceland, at 81.2 years. Japan, Switzerland, Singapore.
“There are major gains in life expectancy in recent decades and they continue,” said Ties Boerma, chief of statistics at the WHO.
The lowest life expectancy is in sub-Saharan Africa, where nine countries have expectancy of less than 55 for both sexes.
Lifestyle changes leading to heart problems and other diseases were curbing life expectancy in some cases.
“We’re seeing a health transition from success in infectious diseases to more people dying from non-communicable diseases,” said Boerma.
However, even in rich countries where people live longest, there is no sign of life expectancy gains slowing down.
For the first time the annual statistics report measured “years of life lost”, a number that takes account of the age when people die as well as the number of deaths, to put more focus on the things that kill more people at a younger age.
Years of life lost to diarrhoea and respiratory infections had fallen by 40pc and 30pc respectively by 2012, when ischaemic heart disease was the biggest factor in early deaths.
Many countries, especially those recovering from conflict, have also shown that it is possible to make big gains fast.
Boerma said: “Examples are Liberia, which has been our fastest catch-up country, but also Rwanda and Cambodia. So if they come out of a crisis with good leadership, there’s enormous progress in health.”