For the first time, babies born today in China are expected to live healthier, though not longer, lives than those born in the United States, according to data released this month by the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the data, which comes from 2016, China’s “healthy life expectancy” is 68.7 years compared to 68.5 years for the US. While that may not seem like much of a difference, it is part of a trend that has seen China catching up with and even surpassing the US in terms of its citizens’ long-term health.
The US still bests China in overall life expectancy; 78.5 years to 76.4 years. How healthy life expectancy differs from that overall measure is that it also factors in morbidity data, such as how often people fall ill at a given age, in order to provide an estimation of how long an individual can expect to live in good health. Of course, simply living longer is always good, but it also matters how many of those years are spent dealing with serious health issues.
By that measure, China has been constantly improving in recent years—like most of the rest of the world—while the US has been one of the only countries on Earth to see a slip. According to WHO data, China’s healthy life expectancy was 64.8 back in 2000 compared to 67.4 for the US, which has actually seen its healthy life expectancy fall since 2010, going from 68.7 to 68.5.
As China has been catching up the rest of the world in terms of healthcare standards and quality of life, the US has faced a number of significant health crises, including a high rate of obesity and drug problems. Reuters estimates that by 2027, China may overtake the US in terms of overall life expectancy as well.
Though that’s not to say China doesn’t have some serious health issues of its own. Along with the child obesity rate growing at alarming levels, it’s been estimated that northern China’s smog problems hascut life expectancy down by three years there compared with the south.
While China may be grabbing headlines for overtaking the US in healthy life expectancy, actually both countries are fairly far down the global rankings: China at 37th and the US at 40th. At the top is, of course, Singapore where babies born today can expect to live in relatively good health for a whopping 76.2 years on average.