“More and more people over a hundred years old” in Europe

“More and more people over a hundred years old” in France

Formerly rare, “over-centenarians” are becoming more and more numerous in Europe, with even the emergence of a new age group, “supercentenarians”, who are over 110 years old, according to a study by the Institute national demographic studies (INED) Wednesday.

We are witnessing a spectacular increase in the number of very old people, although of course from a demographic point of view, this remains negligible“, explains demographer Europe Meslé, one of the authors, to AFP.

The number of people aged 105 or over was estimated by INSEE at nearly 2,000 on January 1, 2023, i.e. the number of centenarians in Europe in… 1981. The latter are now 31,000, or nearly 30 times more than in 1970, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

And while no deaths of “supercentenarians” had been recorded before 1987 – a method used for greater completeness and reliability by INED – researchers have identified 39 in 2022, including… 38 women .

If the vast majority of centenarians are women (86% in 2023 according to INSEE), their preponderance is even greater for those aged 105 and over (more than 90% in 2020) and “spectacular” among supercentenarians.

Their profile, “it is often a woman, who has done fairly tough small jobs outdoors (farmer, farmer's wife, etc.) and has had a diet based on healthy, unprocessed products.“, describes Laurent Toussaint, specialist in supercentenarians and co-host of the blog “Les grands centenaires français”.

Healthy eating

In mainland Europe, no department really stands out. But the INED study notes “a surprising over-representation of those over 105 and especially those over 110 in the Antilles”.

Proportionally to the population, there are almost eight times more supercentenarians in Guadeloupe and Martinique than in mainland Europe.“, according to this work.

“No clear explanations” for this phenomenon but “leads requiring verification”, such as “specificity of the population of these islands, essentially made up of descendants of slaves who suffered from the slave trade“. “These extreme conditions could have led to the most robust selection and, in doing so, perhaps that of longevity genes.“, note the researchers.

Léocadie-Elmira Forlac, resident of Petit-Bourg, in Guadeloupe, celebrated her 100th birthday in December. She lives alone, cooks, gardens and “doesn't know” fast food.

Her secret is that she hasn't eaten what we eat. She ate breadfruit, yams, yellow bananas, root (vegetables)… only local!“, her daughter, Agnès Forlac, 66, told AFP, adding that she had also walked “quite a few kilometers” every day to go to work.

“Without excess”

Europe, which has the highest life expectancy in the EU for women (85.2 years in 2022), was the country with the most centenarians in Europe last year, according to INSEE.

René Debove, 101 years old, is one of them, with his wife Denise, 100 years old, to whom he has been married for 82 years.

Longevity, I don't have much to do with it. We lived without excess, I never smoked“, tells the centenarian to AFP, specifying “drink a small drop of wine every lunchtime” with cheese.

My sport has always been work“, explains this former house painter, still living at home in Clermont-l'Hérault, near Montpellier.

But at this advanced age, “we can't do much anymore“, deplores René Debove. “It is not a life. People give you compliments, but it's not the same for the person wearing them“, he notes, while saying he is well surrounded by his family.

The supposed French dean, Marie-Rose Tessier, who lives in a nursing home in Sables-d'Olonne, in Vendée, will celebrate her 114th birthday on May 21.

At the global level, the supposed oldest is Maria Branyas Morera, born in the United States and who lives in Spain, and is 117 years old, according to the Californian organization GRG (Gerontology Research Group).

Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who died at age 122 in 1997, is the longest-lived person in history, according to Guiness World Records.