VERBANIA, Italy — Italy's Emma Morano, the world's oldest living person, marked her 117th birthday Tuesday, blowing out all the candles on her cake.
Beaming at the attention, Morano took in the festivities for her milestone celebration sitting in an armchair in her one-room apartment in the northern town of Verbania, joined by her two elderly nieces, a pair of caregivers and her long-time physician.
She received a greeting from Italy's president, read by an official, wishing her "serenity and good healthy,'' and appeared for a brief live broadcast on state-run television. She happily accepted some gifts, including her favourite cookies, which she ate with some milk.
Then she blew out the candles on her cake — not one for every year, but three numerals to show her age, 117 — and quipped: "I hope I don't have to cut it!''
Emma Morano, thought to be the world's oldest person and the last to be born in the 1800s, blows candles during her 117th birthday in Verbania, northern Italy on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo)
To the assembled well-wishers, Morano said, "I am happy to turn 117,'' and drew encouragement from her physician, Dr. Carlo Bava.
"Who would have said it?!'' the doctor remarked. "When you were young everyone used to say you were weak and sick.''
"Yes, yes,'' she responded.
Morano sits on her bed following her birthday party. (REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo)
Another party, including a visit from the mayor and another cake, was planned for the afternoon, after a nap.
Morano, who is believed to be the last surviving person in the world born in the 1800s, became the oldest living person in May.
Italy is known for its centenarians — many of whom live on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia — and gerontologists are studying Morano, along with a handful of Italians over 105, to try to figure out their longevity. Bava has credited Morano's long life to her genetic makeup, "and nothing else.''
Imich was just one of several Americans who have been recognized as the oldest people in the world. However, the U.S. is not known for having the oldest population in the world in general. According to a 2011 study by Euromonitor, all of the countries with the oldest populations are situated in Europe, with the exception of Japan. The United States, however, might soon join its European and Japanese counterparts, as the Administration of Aging expects the percentage of Americans older than 65 to reach 19 percent by 2030.
Jeanne Calment, Age 122
The oldest person ever recorded was French citizen Jeanne Louise Calment, who reached a whopping age of 122 years and 164 days. Born in 1875, Calment witnessed both the technological innovations and the destructive wars of the 20th century before passing away in 1997 in her hometown of Arles, France.
Despite having been the home of the oldest person in the world, France, just like the U.S., is not known as one of the countries with the world's oldest population. According to the United Nations, the French elderly population grew from 7 percent to 14 percent in 115 years. In contrast, it will only take developing nations China and Brazil twenty-something years to experience the same change in demographics.
Jiroemon Kimura, Age 116
When Jiroeman Kimura died in June 2012 at the age of 116, he had been the oldest man for just around six months.
Japan is accustomed to a large elderly community. In January 2011, more than a fifth of Japanese were older than 65 and the average life expectancy stood at 83.1 years. Yet Japan's long lifecycle will likely create headaches for its lawmakers, who face the world's second-largest public debt and a below-replacement birthrate, making it difficult to continue handing out generous pension plans to a retiring workforce.
Emma Morano, Age 114
Maria Esther de Capovilla, Age 116
When Ecuadorean Maria Capovilla died in 2006 at the age of 116, she was recognized as the oldest woman to have lived in Latin America and in a developing nation. Capovilla's daughter told the Los Angeles Times that her mother "always had a very tranquil character...She does not get upset by anything. She has been that way her whole life."
Capovilla's impressive lifespan highlights the growing concern of other Latin American countries -- particularly Brazil, Mexico, and Chile -- whose aging populations will put burdens on government finances. A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that "the number of elderly in Latin America will triple as a share of the population by 2050," resulting in a "dramatic
slowdown in population growth." Another concern for the continent is that while life expectancy has increased, living standards in many Latin American countries have stagnated. CSIS warns that "while the United States, Europe, and Japan all became affluent societies before they became aging societies, Latin America may grow old before it grows rich."