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Health Policy. 1999 Jul;48(1):1-12.

What has contributed to the change in life expectancy in Italy between 1980 and 1992?

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Isituto Igiene Universita, Siena SI, Italy.


Life expectancy at birth in southern Europe is known to be greater than expected in comparison with levels of economic development. This has been attributed to the 'Mediterranean diet'. There are, however, concerns that this comparative advantage is being lost. This paper examines the factors underlying changing life expectancy in Italy since 1980. The subjects of this analysis are obtained from data on all deaths in Italy between 1980 and 1992. Change in age specific death rates is calculated from selected causes and, using the method developed by Pollard, the contribution of deaths from different causes and at different ages to changing life expectancy at birth is estimated. Between 1980 and 1992, life expectancy at birth increased by 2.70 years for men and 2.75 years for women. Death rates have fallen among children and those over 40. In contrast, death rates have increased among men aged between 20 and 39 and have increased very slightly among women aged 25-29. Falling death rates from ischaemic heart disease are continuing to contribute to increasing life expectancy. Death rates from lung and breast cancer are rising among women but are compensated for by falling death rates from other cancers. Among men, falling death rates from cancer at younger ages are being offset by increases at older ages. The rising death rate among younger men is almost entirely due to AIDS, with accidents also making a small contribution. Life expectancy in Italy has improved throughout the 1980s, largely driven by falling death rates from cardiovascular diseases. Here are, however, some worrying trends, most notably the rising death rate among young men, due almost entirely to AIDS. The changing pattern of mortality has some similarities with Spain, another Mediterranean country, but there are also important differences.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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