World population aging
At the same time the baby-boom generation in the US is turning 65, the population world-wide is poised to make a similar demographic shift.
Balintfy: Aging is changing the social and economic nature of countries across the globe, presenting both opportunities and challenges. Dr. Richard Suzman at the NIH says we are currently very close to a demographic watershed.
Suzman: Within about five or ten years, for the first time in human history, there will be more people over age 65 in the world than children under age 5.
Balintfy: He says this change is likely to continue; in fact it is happening faster and faster in industrialized countries, and especially low-income countries. And why?
Suzman: It's first fertility.
Balintfy: Dr. Suzman explains that a combination of fewer children per couple or woman, combined with increases in life expectancy are the two key factors.
Suzman: Thatís the metabolism of population.
Balintfy: But different countries change differently. Dr. Suzman points out differences between low- and high-income countries.
Suzman: High-income countries like the US or Germany became wealthy and industrialized before they became old. Low-income countries are becoming old before they've become wealthy and industrialized.
Balintfy: Regardless of income, as populations get older, the main causes of disability and illness become chronic degenerative diseases, what are known as non-communicable diseases, like strokes, heart disease and dementia.
Suzman: Now what's really surprising is that within a few decades, every region in the world will have a preponderance of the chronic non-communicable diseases.
Balintfy: Even African, he notes, will soon see a new pattern of diseases with infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria coexisting with non-communicable diseases. But Dr. Suzman says researchers have provided some hope and optimism for aging populations with recent studies.
Suzman: They found that the disability associated with chronic disease was going down in the US population over age 65. It dropped something like 25% between 1982, 1984, and around 2000.
Balintfy: The trend has since stopped perhaps because of the increase in obesity, but Dr. Suzman says medical, lifestyle and education factors can make a difference.
Suzman: Old age disability is not inevitable; it's malleable; it's plastic.
Balintfy: He says both the size and the age of the population are factors.
Suzman: The critical challenge is that the extra years of life that we get from increased life expectancy are wonderful, but somehow they have to be paid for and financed; and there are only a certain number of ways in which that can be done: you know, making the economy more productive, working longer, saving more, consuming less, etc. And that's a challenge that every aging country faces; but it's a challenge, which plays out in slow motion and we could see the challenge coming.
Balintfy: For more information on age-related research and world population issues, visit www.nia.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Richard Suzman
Topic: aging, population, aging population, global population, worldwide population, disability, disease, demographic