30 Sep 2010

NZ life expectancy growth slows

8:27 pm on 30 September 2010

New figures show the life expectancy of New Zealanders is growing far slower than most developed countries.

Figures issued by the New Zealand Institute show life expectancy gained relatively from 1990-2000 but then began slipping.

While actual life expectancy is still increasing, it has been rising faster in all other developed countries in the OECD, except two, within the past two years.

In the past two years, New Zealand's ranking has dropped from 11th to 14th.

Overall people in this country can expect to live to 80.2 years, but the life expectancy for Maori men is only marginally higher than the global average of 69.

However, a Maori academic says it is important to keep the new figures in perspective as they do not reflect the progress that has been made.

Professor Mason Durie, of Massey University, says life expectancy among Maori males has increased from about 56 in 1950 to 70 years today, which is a substantial improvement.

A public health professor says New Zealand needs to reduce smoking rates amongst the young in order to increase life expectancy.

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman from the University of Otago's Wellington School of Medicine, says unemployment, income level and quality of housing affect life expectancy.

Ensuring teenagers stop smoking is the best way to increase life expectancy, she says.