New app to forecast life expectancy

Researchers from the University of East Anglia have developed a new app that shows the effect of various medical and lifestyle factors on life expectancy.

The Mylongevity app uses big data from anonymised electronic health records to calculate life expectancy – taking into account socio-demographic and health characteristics such as chronic diseases.

While the app was designed before the onset of Covid-19, the research team are working to incorporate hypothetical life expectancy change scenarios into its forecast.

They say the new app could help bring practical, financial and medical benefits – such as helping people plan for retirement. It can also help people understand how behaviours such as smoking affect longevity.

Lead researcher Prof Elena Kulinskaya, from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences, said: “People are interested in their life expectancy, but it is not just out of morbid curiosity.

“Life expectancy is a big consideration in any long-term planning and it is especially important to people planning their financial goals and retirement strategies.

“It can also help people improve their life expectancy by making healthy lifestyle changes,” she added.

The calculations are based on UK life expectancy figures published by the Office for National Statistics, and refined using UEA research on cardiovascular disease and the benefits of statin use.

Prof Kulinskaya said: “We have identified and quantified the key factors affecting mortality and longevity, such as lifestyle choices, medical conditions and medical interventions.

“The software we have developed is based on our research using electronic health records. In our recent analysis of life expectancy, we followed a cohort of 110,000 healthy people who hit 60 between 1990 and 2000 for the next 25 years, updating their health status every six months.

“The results of our analysis are translated into life expectancies for 648 different risk profiles based on age, sex and postcode. The list of risk factors we used include hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, BMI, the risk of a cardiac event within 10 years, smoking status and statin use.

“Our research included people aged 60 and older, resident in England and Wales. For younger people, we provide life expectancy assuming that they survive to age 60 retaining all their current demographic and health characteristics.

“This research provides a calculation of life expectancy at a very fine scale. It is still an average individual lifespans will vary either side of that, but it may give people some useful food for thought.

“Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic may result in a decreased life expectancy for some. We are confident that the key application of our tool – helping to show the relative effects of such things as smoking – is largely unaffected, but we plan to fine tune it to explore life expectancy changes caused by the pandemic,” she added.

The app could prove useful for GPs to help people make lifestyle changes, as well as for actuaries and demographers.

The research was based on the results of a research programme on ‘Big Health and Actuarial Data for understanding Longevity and Morbidity Risks’ funded by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) and commissioned through its Actuarial Research Centre (ARC). The development of the Mylongevity App was funded by UEA.

The app can be assessed at: https://mylongevity.org/. The web-developer was PhD student George Oastler, from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences.

www.uea.ac.uk.

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