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Pioneering algorithm calculates the number of years individuals can expect to live in good health

  • Research shows that the number of years people are spending in ill health is increasing, primarily due to the rising prevalence of chronic diseases, driven by unhealthy lifestyles
  • Experts call for focus on healthspan, the quality of life, alongside lifespan, the quantity of life, citing significant economic and social benefits
  • Pioneering algorithm by Vitality, in collaboration with RAND Europe, can for the first time predict an individual’s healthspan (the number of years lived in good health) and their future health risks
  • The research demonstrates that a few, simple changes to lifestyle behaviours can have an enormous impact on healthspan and quality of life
  • Research will be launched and discussed at an international conference, chaired by Gillian Tett and with speakers such as Professor Yuval Noah Harari and Adrian Gore

12 October 2021 – Vitality today reveals the results of research that quantifies the widening gap between lifespan (life expectancy) and healthspan (the number of years lived in good health) globally, reflecting a diminishing quality of life in later years. Alongside this research, Vitality and RAND Europe have developed a pioneering algorithm that will allow individuals, for the first time, to understand how their lifestyle choices impact both their length and quality of life, enabling them to take actions that will maximise the number of years that they spend in good health in the future.

The research and algorithm will be launched at Vitality’s global conference chaired by author and anthropologist, Gillian Tett, with keynote speakers Professor Yuval Noah Harari and Discovery / Global Vitality CEO, Adrian Gore, to debate solutions for improving the future health of individuals and populations.

The research highlights an average 15% increase since 1990 in the number of years that people will spend in ill health over their lifetimes, from 8.5 years to 9.8 years, which equates to approximately 18% of the average lifespan. 1 China has seen a significant increase of 19% to 9.1 years, with the UK and USA both seeing a 14% increase in the same timeframe, meaning the average number of years spent in ill health in these nations is close to 12 years and 13.5 years respectively. This outcome follows population health strategies that prioritise treatment over prevention, and greater sophistication of healthcare treatments and technologies that have enabled people to live for longer with disease.

Extending healthy life years will deliver significant economic and social benefits. Currently, the world spends $8.5 trillion or 10% of GDP on healthcare delivery with only 5% going towards prevention services. Reducing the disease burden by just 10% through more preventive policies and individual- level behaviour change could prevent up to 93 million healthy years of life being lost globally each year.

To create greater awareness and accountability at an individual level, the new algorithm, developed by Vitality in collaboration with RAND Europe, will provide individuals with a personalised view of their lifespan and healthspan, as well as bespoke recommendations for improving these measures.

These recommendations consider the individual’s age, gender, health status, and current lifestyle choices to ensure that the prescribed actions are suitable and will have the greatest possible impact on health. The model shows that even modest behaviour change can materially reduce health risk over time. For example, an average2 30-year-old man could increase his healthspan by 1.5 years just by introducing 20 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. However, if he improved his diet too, he could increase his healthspan by a total of 2.5 years. If he became the healthiest version of himself (by improving all his risk factors to their best levels) he would add nearly six years to his healthspan.

See appendix for an example of age-appropriate lifestyle interventions that people can adopt over the course of their lives.

Incentivising positive lifestyle changes in a world forever changed by the global pandemic can have a profound impact on the health of individuals and reduce the burden on health services. Our global network of leading insurers has a unique opportunity to monetise and incentivise better future health and, given global trends, I believe we have a responsibility to act. Over the last 30 years, scientific change has driven increases in lifespan. Improving healthspan globally will require a greater focus on behaviour change – with benefits for individuals, the economy and society. Adrian Gore, Discovery / Global Vitality Chief Executive. 

In addition, to help overcome the cognitive and behavioural biases that prevent people from taking healthy actions today in support of their long-term health, Vitality engaged with Professor Hal Hershfield at The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to determine what exactly consumers want to know about their futures – and how they would respond to receiving personalised health forecasts. This ground-breaking research explores how to build intrinsic motivation to engage in a healthy lifestyle by speaking to people about their risks in a way they understand and that resonates with them. The research highlights the importance of actionable insights – concrete steps that people can take to improve health and life expectancy.

The disconnect we experience between our current and future selves leads to suboptimal decision-making in areas of finance and health. This emotional divide between selves led us to explore a new question: What are people most interested in knowing about their futures? – since these insights can serve as a useful stepping-stone towards making healthier lifestyle choices. Knowing what information people value on this journey to wellbeing is an important factor in bridging the gulf between a person’s current and future self, and potentially towards maximising health over time. Professor Hal Hershfield, UCLA Anderson School of Management Professor of Marketing and Behavioral Decision Making.

Some of these insights have been incorporated, along with the risk algorithm, to create a world-first public calculator of individual healthspan. Named the Vitality Healthy Futures calculator, it will be available to the public on the Vitality International website: from today (Tuesday 12th October 2021) for a limited time, with a view to integrating the analysis into Vitality’s global member platform in the coming months.

Everyone is familiar with the concept of lifespan but not many of us are aware we have a healthspan. Improving the health of individuals and populations now requires us to help people understand the behaviours they can adopt at different ages and life stages. The earlier you start, the greater the rewards. For a 30-year- old, relatively unhealthy woman, our research shows that reducing systolic blood pressure to a healthy range3 and incorporating 20 minutes of vigorous exercise per day can increase her healthspan by over four years. But adopting healthier behaviours at any stage can have a big impact. Dr Katie Tryon, Chief Engagement Officer at Vitality.

For the first time, it’s possible to deliver personal recommendations on how people can extend their healthspan and their lifespan. The possibilities for the tool are infinite and could support insurers and healthcare professionals in giving people information on how to increase the number of years they can expect to live in good health – marking a new era of behaviour change. Adrian Gore concludes. 

1 Calculated for remaining lifespan of an average person aged 40 globally.

2 Non-smoker with a relatively poor diet and currently achieving low levels of physical activity with poor cardiorespiratory fitness

3 Reducing systolic blood pressure from 140 mmHg to 120 mmHg

Notes to Editors:

For more information or interview requests please contact the Global Vitality team at Teneo:

About the Vitality Healthy Futures Calculator Vitality has collaborated with Professor Hal Hershfield, an expert in the fields of marketing, behavioural decision-making, and psychology, as well as his team of academics at UCLA, to inform the world-leading risk assessment tool, Healthy Futures. For the first time, users will receive personalised results and recommendations that will be of most interest to them, providing a platform for a new era of positive behaviour change. Accompanying the tool’s novel recommender system, Healthy Futures benefits from a comprehensive technical update to the previous Vitality Age tool, now leveraging the largest source of risk-disease outcomes data in the world. This database, the Global Burden of Disease, used under licence from IHME, comprises of 264 causes of death, 328 diseases and injuries and 84 behavioural, environmental, and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks. In addition, the data has been further augmented with Discovery data comprising millions of life-years to allow for a new and clinically accurate set of questions. Users will now be required to input new health measures relating to their cardiorespiratory fitness, medication adherence, salt intake, sleep, and pre-diagnosed conditions. With a key focus on physical activity, Healthy Futures uses new actuarial modelling to project future changes in metabolic risks over the user’s lifetime. The result is a risk assessment tool which provides individuals with an array of tailored, scientifically formulated future life and health metrics:

- The number of years a user has left to live (“lifespan”)

- The number of years a user has left to life in good health (“healthspan”)

- The three most likely diseases that are likely to affect the user in future

- The next best actions the user can adopt today to improve their healthspan and lifespan

About RAND Europe

RAND Europe is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to help improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis. It realises its mission by undertaking objective, balanced, and relevant research, and analysis; communicating findings to a wide audience, often through publications, many of which are available on its website; working in partnership with clients; and working collaboratively with others. RAND Europe’s work lies on the continuum between that of universities and consultancies, combining the academic rigour of universities and the professional, task-oriented approach of consultancies. It has uniquely broad experience in the fields of health and employment, having worked for a wide range of government and charitable funders globally. RAND Europe is part of the global RAND Corporation. RAND Europe has formal links with the University of Cambridge, for instance through the Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research (CCHSR).

About Professor Hal Hershfield, UCLA

Hal Hershfield is a Professor of Marketing, Behavioral Decision Making, and Psychology at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and holds the UCLA Anderson Board of Advisors Term Chair in Management. His research, which sits at the intersection of psychology and economics, examines the ways that people consider their future selves, and how feelings of connection to these distant selves can impact financial decision-making over time. He earned his PhD in psychology from Stanford University. Hershfield publishes in top academic journals and contributes op-eds to leading media platforms such as the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal.

Appendix 1: Global healthspans

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Source: Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 (GBD 2019) Results. Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2020. Available at and used with permission.

Appendix 2: Lifestyle behaviours that impact healthspan

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Based on analysis from ‘Maximizing Health Span A Literature Review on the Impact of a Healthy Lifestyle in Retirement’. Society of Actuaries Research Institute 2021, authored by Vitality Group researchers Bolnick, H., Jacobs, L., Kotzen, D., Millard, F., and Stepanek, M.

About Vitality Global

Vitality is part of Discovery Limited, a worldwide insurer and investment manager impacting more than 40 million members in over 40 markets worldwide, across Europe, the United States, Australia, Africa, Canada and China.

Vitality pioneered the ‘shared-value’ insurance model, a unique approach based on the scientifically proven principles of behavioural economics. Through this model, Vitality helps members take a more active role in managing their own wellness, encouraging them to develop healthy long-term habits that are good for them, good for the company and good for society. The effect is positive for all stakeholders – members benefit from better health, financial rewards and additional incentives; employers’ benefit from healthier, more productive, and more engaged employees; and Vitality benefits from a healthier membership base.

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