[color=green:48e18878ae][b:48e18878ae]Life-expectancy varies widely by region [/b:48e18878ae][/color:48e18878ae]
1.00pm Sunday May 21, 2006
By Miles Erwin

The secret of eternal youth could be closer than you think. In fact, just north of Hamilton. New Ministry of Health figures, obtained under the Official Information Act by the Herald on Sunday, shows Sylvester in north Hamilton has the highest life-expectancy rate of more than 1800 areas in the country. There, the 100-odd residents, all of whom are Pakeha, can expect to live to just over 93 years old - 15 years longer than the national average of 78.7 years.

So what's Sylvester's secret? Residents spoken to were completely flummoxed when told of the high figures - but quite excited. Hamilton City Councillor, and Sylvester representative, Daphne Bell said it would now be part of a new promotional package for the town. "I'll tell the mayor and I'm sure he will keep it in mind."

But Sylvester's figures are in sobering contrast to Canterbury - home to three towns included among the lowest 10 life-expectancy figures. The worst area is Tuahiwi, north of Christchurch, where people can expect to live to only 64.3 years - putting it on a par with Mongolia.

The figures come from regional breakdowns from the 2001 census, which counted an average of about 2000 people per area. The study, officially titled Monitoring Health Inequality Through Life Expectancy, analysed the life expectancy of every neighbourhood in New Zealand - and the results threw up plenty of surprises. While commonly accepted, for example, that living in big cities is stressful, according to the study Aucklanders lived longer than the average Kiwi.

The area in Auckland with the highest life expectancy was the Waitemata health board district, north of the city. People there lived on average for 80.7 years. It is closely followed by Auckland itself, with an average of 80.2 years. However, there are considerable variations in the city.

For example, residents of Meadowbank, Orakei South, Mt Eden North, Northcote South and Epsom South are expected to live into their eighties while in places like Mangere South, Papakura Central, and Papatoetoe North the people there aren't expected to make it past their seventies. But surprisingly some of Auckland's most exclusive suburbs pale in comparison with the likes of Sylvester. People in Ponsonby East are expected to live to only 76.8 - around 16 years less than in Sylvester.

And even in exclusive Remuera the figure is only 85.6 - nine years less than Sylvester. On the east coast, however, it is much more of a lottery as to whether you will be around to see your grandkids grow up. The Tairawhiti District Health board, around Gisborne, had the country's lowest average life expectancy of just 75.7 years.

The contrast in the highest and lowest isn't just in statistics - the towns are complete opposites. Tuahiwi is an old rural community with a high Maori population and almost no health services. In contrast Sylvester, a town barely 15 years old, is the face of New Zealand property development. Tuahiwi Residents' Association president Chay Harris said his town lacked essential services. "It gets forgotten by the local council - it's completely overlooked. The next-door neighbours have just a large [water] tank filled with gravel and sand."

The head of the local marae, Nick Tau, said he was surprised by the figures and suspected the high number of youth suicides may have skewed the figures.

How long we live

Tuahiwi, near Woodend, north of Canterbury: 64.2 years
Cathedral Sq, Christchurch: 64.3
Mangere Central: 66.8. Kingsley-Chatham-Hastings: 67.0
Otangarei: Whangarei 67.0
Birkdale North, North Shore: 67.1
Kingswell-Clifton, Invercargill: 67.2
Buckland, Pukekohe: 67.3
Templeton, West Christchurch: 67.5
Homai West, South Auckland: 67.5
Sylvester, North Hamilton: 93.7
Glenwood, Timaru: 92.7
Aberfeldy, Botany Downs: 92.5
Owhata East, east of Rotorua: 92.1
Hillsborough West, Auckland: 91.4
Kauwhata, Palmerston North: 90.6
Cape Runaway - near Te Kaha: 90.4
Taipa Bay-Mangonui - far north: 90.1
Beachaven North - North Shore: 89.9
Waitangi-Te Tii - Waitangi: 89.1