Life Expectancy Is Rising — But Chronic Disease Still Threatens Health

When hearing that life expectancy is rising, you probably feel a sense of relief. After all, we focus on our health to live longer, right? While examining results from The Global Burden of Disease Study, it’s clear that globally, we have gained more than a decade of life since 1980 — with men now living 69 years on average and women living 74.8 years.

Improvements in life expectancy were based on some infectious or communicable diseases, including malaria and HIV — and although rates are falling at a slower pace, it appears that fatal cases due to cancers and cardiovascular disease are also following this downward trend.

Although this is exciting to hear, this sort of progress has not been seen among cases of chronic disease, which now cause seven out of ten deaths. Meaning, although we’re living longer, the chronic disease continues to be a growing public health concern. Here’s what this study found and why you should be more aware of your current health.

Study Finds — We’re Living Longer, But Chronic Disease Is Impairing Health

Within this recent study, published in The Lancet, researchers analyzed 249 cases of death, 315 diseases, and injuries, as well as 79 risk factors across 195 countries and territories between the years 1990 and 2015. It appears that the results, ‘paint a picture of patchy health gains across the globe, based in part on economic development.’

As stated by the lead author, “development drives, but it does not determine health.” He explained that there are some countries which have improved far faster than anything explained by factors such as education, fertility, or income. In comparison, countries such as the United States, are far less healthy — despite all of the available resources.

In addition to overall life expectancy, this study also estimated healthy life expectancy or the number of years that people are expected to live in good health. Since 1990, in 191 of 195 countries, healthy life expectancy has increased by 6.1 years — but had not risen as much as overall life expectancy.

Meaning, people are now living longer, yet living more years with illness and disability. Of the world’s wealthier regions, North America, unfortunately, had the worst healthy life expectancy at birth for both men and women. More specifically, it appears that diabetes, which is often linked to obesity, as well as drug use disorders, lead to a disproportionate amount of poor health and premature death cases in the United States.

Here are some additional findings from the study —

  • Seven out of ten deaths are due to non-communicable disease, including stroke, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Worldwide, 1 out of 10 people suffers from vision loss, hearing loss, tooth cavities, and headaches.
  • Although progress has been made regarding unsafe drinking water, it appears that drug use, diet, and obesity are increasing threats.
  • In 2015, over 275,000 women died during pregnancy or childbirth, mainly from preventable causes.
  • Since 1990, deaths under the age of 5 have halved, however, little progress has been made on reducing newborn death.

The Global Burden of Disease Study is the most comprehensive, global observational study ever conducted. It focuses on mortality and morbidity from major diseases, as well as risk factors that affect individuals on global, national, and regional scales. If you would like to check out more on this study, you can do so here — it’s a great way to see how our health is changing and why that may be.

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