Jeju ranks second on the list of regions with an average life expectancy of 79.3 years due to a good environment with clean air and water, just behind Seoul. But the island slid to 12th among 16 cities and provinces in terms of the average healthy lifespan -- the number of years of life without illness -- of 69.58 years.
Jeju residents suffer an average of 9.72 years of illness in their later years, the longest in the country, whereas Seoul citizens enjoy both the longest life expectancy of 80.4 years and the longest healthy lifespan of 73.9 years.
The reason is that Seoul citizens have a higher average income than people in other regions and thus more to spend on healthcare, and also because the city is equipped with better infrastructure, experts say. In other words, top medical facilities have more influence on people's health than clean air and water.
According to data from the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, Koreans' average healthy lifespan based on the 2005 population census was 71.3 years, meaning they can expect to be ill for 7.3 years provided they live out Koreans' average life expectancy of 78.6 years.
Byun Yong-chan, who conducted the research at the time, said, "With the better healthcare environment, there is a likelihood that Koreans' average healthy lifespan has increased by a year or two" since then.
While Koreans' life expectancy is on a par with advanced countries, their healthy lifespan is still two or three years shorter.
Korea ranked 28th in the World Health Organization's 2009 report on the healthy lifespan of countries based on a 2007 survey. Japan came top with an average life expectancy of 82.6 years and a healthy lifespan of 76 years.