One of Sciensano’s key objectives is to measure and monitor the population’s health by following up on relevant indicators, one of them being life expectancy. We track and publish life expectancy (and mortality indicators) in Belgium by region and by province.
Life expectancy is the number of remaining years that a person of a certain age can expect to live, assuming current mortality conditions. Life expectancy at birth is the most common life expectancy indicator.
The health of a population can be described by a variety of indicators (longevity, mortality, morbidity, perceived health, …). Life expectancy is a typical indicator of longevity but it is also a good indicator of the current level of health in a population across all generations. It is one of the most frequently used health status indicators.
How to interpret the life expectancy indicator?
Life expectancy reflects the average longevity of a population, and as such, gives a general overview of the population’s global health status across all generations. Measuring life expectancy over a long period can inform on evolution over time; in addition it can be used for benchmarking against other countries.
Life expectancy refers here to period life expectancy. It means that the mortality rates from a single year are used and assumed to represent the rates experienced by a person throughout his remaining life. It doesn’t take into account future changes in mortality rates.
The changes in life expectancy cannot be attributed to one single specific cause. Actual gains in life expectancy are the result of a number of factors including, for instance, rising living standards, improved lifestyles, better education, reduction of road accidents, greater access to quality health services, etc.
How does life expectancy evolve over time?
Most European countries, including Belgium, have experienced an important increase in life expectancy throughout the past decades. In Belgium, life expectancy at birth was 76 years in 1990, 77.8 years in 2000, 80 years in 2010 and 81.8 years in 2019.
More information on the evolution of life expectancy can be found on the website of the Health Status Report.
Can we get more information from the life expectancy indicator?
Changes in life expectancy can be further explored by researchers. For instance, it is interesting for policy-makers to know if a gain in life expectancy is mostly due to a decrease in infant mortality or to a decline in mortality at older ages. It could also be the result of the diminishing death rate due to specific causes such as road accidents, or ischemic heart diseases, etc. … Such detailed information will help evaluate the impact of interventions and detect issues that could be improved. This crucial additional information can be obtained by decomposing the changes in life expectancy by age group and/or by cause of death.
Information on life expectancy can also be combined with information on health to compute health expectancies, which represents the number of remaining life years to be lived in good health. More information on the ‘Summary measures of population health’ webpage.