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Monday 26th August 2019

People are living longer, but are sicker

14th December 2012

A new review of the world's health has found that while the global population is now living longer on average than they did four decades ago, people also have more disease and disability to contend with during their extra years.

World Health

By 2010, people were living more than a decade longer on average than 40 years earlier, with average life expectancy for a male rising by 11.1 years, and that for a female by 12.1 years.

A collection of seven studies published The Lancet found that more of our lives, however, carry the burden of illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

The world's health is now coming to resemble the overall picture of public health in the United States.

According to Josh Salomon of the Harvard School of Public Health, for every four additional years of healthy life, a person is likely to also have an additional year of poor health.

Researchers involved in the studies called for more government policies that focus on keeping people healthy, not just on keeping them alive.

In a joint statement issued alongside the study, Alan Lopez and Theo Vos of the University of Queensland's School of Population Health said that health was more than just avoiding death.

Nearly 500 researchers in 50 countries around the world contributed to the study, distilling academic research, data from autopsy reports, hospital records and censuses, and analysing the incidence of 291 kinds of illness and injury in 187 countries.

The only clear exception to the trends in the global burden of disease were shown in sub-Saharan Africa, where problems like malnutrition, infectious diseases and birth complications still take a toll on younger people.

Elsewhere, chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes were becoming more prevalent.

Salomon said the longer-term health problems that come with longer life have implications for the financial and social costs of healthcare, as well as on the systems that deliver it.

Now, nearly two-thirds of all deaths around the world are from non-communicable diseases, compared with just half of deaths in 1990.

Cancer deaths rose from 5.8 million in 1990 to eight million in 2010, a rise of 38%, while there was a fall of 15.9% in the number of deaths from malnutrition and infectious, maternal and neonatal diseases  from 15.9 million to 13.2 million over the same period.

A total of 9.4 million people died from high blood pressure, while tobacco smoking accounted for a further 6.3 million deaths worldwide in 2010, while alcohol was linked to around five million deaths in that year.

Researchers also attributed an estimated 12 million deaths to an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.

According to study lead author Christopher Murray of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the big issue is a shift in the nature of risks to human health.

More risks are coming from non-communicable diseases that are linked to people's lifestyles, and fewer are linked to poverty at the global level, Murray said in a statement.

Disabilities like mental disorder, substance abuse, diabetes and muscular-skeletal diseases rose sharply, and were mostly linked to a globally ageing population, Murray said, adding that this trend was most in evidence outside sub-Saharan Africa, where life expectancy is still falling.

The average life expectancy of a male fell by 1.3 years between 1970 and 2010, while that of women fell by 0.9 years on average, a change which researchers attributed mostly to HIV/AIDS.

There was a five-fold rise in the number of deaths in the 15-49 age group in Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the study found.

Alcohol also took its toll on the life expectancy of people in Belarus and the Ukraine, it said.

However, global deaths among children fell by nearly 60% from 16.4 million deaths in 1970 to 6.8 million in 2010.

The longest lived group over that period were Japanese women, who live an average of 85.9 years, followed by Icelandic men at 80 years.

By contrast, the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010 slashed life expectancy figures in that population to just 32.5 years for men and 43.6 for women.


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