World's Longest-Living Women Aren't in Japan Anymore

Maybe there's something to bird's nest soup and lotus paste
"longevity" buns, after all.
Hong Kong's female octogenarians can now claim the title of the longest-living people on earth.

Though Japanese women have ranked as the world's longest
living for decades, the expected lifespan for Japanese women
dipped to 85.9 years in 2011, down from 86.3 the year prior, in part because of the disasters the country suffered last year. Similar declines in lifespan for men were also recorded,
Japan's health ministry reports.

Hong Kong may be notorious for its smog and stressful
lifestyle, but in 2011, the average lifespan of Hong Kong women was a robust 86.7 years, according to the government. Local experts cite the city's advanced, extremely affordable healthcare, high levels of activity and healthy diet as factors.

"People in Hong Kong are meticulous with their diet
nowadays," says David Dai, a doctor at the public Prince of Wales Hospital, where he's practiced for 10 years. "We stick to an Asian diet. Vegetables are not a problem, and our eldest don't (eat) a lot of meat. Food is steamed, or stir-fried. There's not a lot of grease." The city's fish-heavy diet also promotes health, says Dr. Dai, as do the early morning walks and tai-chi routines of its eldest residents. The fact that so many Hong Kong residents are able to afford the services of a domestic helper also likely contributes to local's impressive longevity, says Dr. Dai, adding that such attendants in the house can help guard against falls and encourage the elderly to take their medicine on time. Currently, Hong Kong is home to some 300,000 domestic helpers, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia.

For Hong Kong residents, affordability of healthcare is key,
analysts say. For example, Dr. Dai says, any treatment at a
Hong Kong public hospital costs just HK$120 (US$15.50) a day. And if a retiree visits a public hospital under the city's social security assistance scheme, all their treatments are free. "Whatever they need--if it's a hip fracture, if they need surgery, all their medicine, all this is provided free of charge," he says.

Still, government critics argue the city should do more to help
the city's elderly, some who are forced by Hong Kong's astronomical housing prices to live in its hot and cramped "cage homes," which can measure just a few paces.

"Longer life is a blessing, but we don't have any real
economic or income protection for the elderly," says Wong Hung, a professor in the Chinese University of Hong Kong's social work department, who notes that one-third of the city's elderly live in poverty. Though the government offers people aged 65 and above HK$1090 (US$140) in a monthly subsidy, a so-called "fruit money" stipend, critics say the sum isn't
enough to allow them to survive. In the mornings, says Mr. Wong, it's not uncommon to see groups of elderly women hanging around the city's subway stations to try and collect as many free newspapers from vendors as possible, so they can sell them as recycled paper and eke out a living.

"We should also think about quality of life, not just life expectancy," says Mr. Wong.

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