From Iceland — Ask A Scientist: Why Do Icelanders Live So Long?

Ask A Scientist: Why Do Icelanders Live So Long?

Published January 4, 2018

Ask A Scientist: Why Do Icelanders Live So Long?

In the present day, Iceland is hugely romanticised, whether for its stunning landscapes, its perceived gender equality, or its football team. For the fanboys and fangirls out there, figures published by Statistics Iceland in 2017 also revealed that Icelandic men have the highest life expectancy in Europe (80.7 years), while women ranked sixth (83.7 years). But are there any scientifically ratified, Iceland-specific reasons why this is the case? Sigríður Haraldsdóttir, PhD, Head of Health Information at the Directorate of Health, tells us if Iceland is really a special case.

The elixir of Icelandic life

“The main reason for high life expectancy rates is the same here as everywhere else, i.e. that age specific death rates have decreased,” Sigríður says. “Falling mortality rates from the main causes of death, i.e. from cardiovascular disease and cancer also play an important role.” But what of the magic dust sprinkled by elves onto Icelanders while they sleep? Surely the reasons behind Iceland’s high life expectancy can’t be the same as every other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country.

Well, as noted by Óttar Guðmundsson M.D., a psychiatrist at Landspítali University Hospital in a recent GQ article on the topic, “Even up to the 19th century, our people were desperately poor and uneducated. But then Iceland began to prosper during World War II, and everything started changing very rapidly.”

Therefore, it seems that an upturn in socioeconomic fortunes, rather than anything especially spiritual or elvish, is the reason for a high life expectancy in Iceland. To anyone previously convinced otherwise, I truly and sincerely apologise.

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