Understanding Healthy Life Expectancy

How Long Will You Live in 'Full Health'?

Newborn baby laying on blanket
Newborn baby laying on blanket. Getty Images/PBNJ Productions/Blend Images

Healthy Life Expectancy is the average number of years that a newborn can expect to live in "full health" — in other words, not hampered by disabling illnesses or injuries. Medical experts often refer to this as "HALES" (pronounced haleys),  or "health-adjusted life expectancy."

Statisticians and demographers calculate Healthy Life Expectancy by adjusting total life expectancy for the amount of time spent in poor health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) uses this measure for countries worldwide.

How Is Healthy Life Expectancy Calculated?

This is a bit complicated and uses lots of different data sources for each country.

In a nutshell, the World Health Organization takes a country's data like mortality rates and health status information and crunches them to look at things like how long people are expected to live with about 135 health conditions.

The calculation looks at the mortality rate for different health conditions and adjusts it for the duration or severity of the illnesses. Since each country doesn't have the same data available, the WHO substitutes and adjusts as necessary.

Why Use HALES?

HALES try to measure a country's effectiveness in reducing the burden of illness. Sometimes, an illness can be shortened or the suffering reduced, but the death rate from that illness doesn’t change. In that case, though, the healthy life expectancy would be longer, which would be a benefit.

Remember that WHO and various government entities are using this method to calculate healthy life expectancy for everyone in a particular population. It can provide you with some hints about how long you will live, but it won't give you definitive answers — we haven't yet developed a tool to do that accurately.

Show Me Some HALEs

The numbers below are HALEs for different countries as of 2013. Remember that these figures represent an estimate of the number of years a newborn today will live in full health in each of the countries. I’ve also included the total life expectancy for each country so you can see the differences.

More on Life Expectancy


World Health Organization Health Status Statistics.

World Health Organization Life Expectancy Data by Country. 

CountryMale HALEsMale Life ExpectancyFemale HALESFemale Life Expectancy
Russian Federation55636675
South Africa49575464
United Kingdom69797283
United States of America68767181

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