London — Life expectancy in Europe has returned to the level it reached before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, while the U.S. is still trying to regain lost ground. Overall, new numbers show life expectancy has increased in most parts of the world, with eastern sub-Saharan Africa showing the biggest gains over the past three decades.

Latest European Union figures released this month show the average life expectancy across the bloc in 2023 was 81.5 years — almost a year’s gain over 2022, as the coronavirus pandemic was coming to an end.

Jennifer Beam Dowd is a professor of demography and population health at the University of Oxford.

“Within Europe, we’re seeing really high life expectancy in countries like Spain and Italy, Sweden, Norway, but some countries are falling behind their peers and that includes the UK. And then Eastern Europe has made a lot of progress since the post-Soviet mortality crisis of the 1990s, but they’re still lagging behind a bit,” she said.

A recent study in the Lancet journal showed that globally, life expectancy increased by 6.2 years between 1990 and 2021 — with eastern sub-Saharan Africa experiencing the largest increase of some 10.7 years.

“I think that’s really good news and reflects a lot of continued progress all over the world in falls and infectious disease and infant and child mortality, which makes a big difference to life expectancy because you’re saving a lot of years of life if you save lives at young ages,” said Jennifer Beam Dowd.

Figures released in March showed average life expectancy in the United States in 2022, the most recent data available, was 77.5 years — still more than a year lower than the life expectancy before the pandemic. Figures for 2023 have not yet been released.

“A lot of countries have bounced back close to pre-pandemic life expectancy, but some countries such as the U.S. have not returned yet to the levels they were at in 2019,” said Jennifer Beam Dowd. “Another thing that’s having a big impact, we think right now, is the obesity epidemic, which started taking off, especially in the U.S., in the early 1980s. And in fact, we are seeing major slowdowns in improvements from cardiovascular disease that are driving a lot of the stalling life expectancy in high-income countries.”

The European principality of Monaco — a favorite home for the super-rich — had the world’s highest life expectancy in 2023, at almost 90 years, according to U.S. figures.

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