As Longevity Climbs, Healthy Life Gains May Lag

Global life expectancy rose, but many people lived with illness and disability


Around the world, people are living longer. And while some stay healthy throughout their lives, others face chronic disease and disability.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington periodically publishes a report on global life expectancy and related issues, such as chronic disease and disability. The latest report found that life expectancy around the world increased for both sexes. Healthy life expectancy (HALE) — living without disability or chronic disease — also rose, but not quite as much.

"The world has made great progress in health, but now the challenge is to invest in finding more effective ways of preventing or treating the major causes of illness and disability," said study author Dr. Theo Vos, of IHME, in a press release.

Dr. Vos led an international group of researchers working on the Global Burden of Disease Study. These researchers analyzed data from 188 countries covering the period from 1990 to 2013.

Average life expectancy at birth for both men and women rose from 65.3 years in 1990 to 71.5 in 2013. HALE rose from 56.9 in 1990 to 62.3 in 2013.

These improvements may result from advances in treating infections like HIV and malaria, Dr. Vos and team said. Treatments and prevention strategies for other communicable diseases, nutritional disorders and maternal-child health have likely also fueled life expectancy gains.

The picture is not all rosy. however — some countries have not improved as much as others. The poorest countries tended to have the shortest life expectancies and highest levels of health loss.

Ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, and stroke are some of the major global health problems that affect mortality and disability.

In the US, heart disease, back and neck pain and pulmonary disease caused the most health loss. Dr. Vos and team found.

The average life expectancy for American men in 1990 was 71.87 years —for women, 78.84. Healthy life expectancy for men was 62.66 years in 1990 and 66.96 years for women.

By 2015, men could expect an average life expectancy of 76.33. For women, that figure was 81.42 years. Healthy life expectancy, however, was 65.84 years for men and 68.61 years for women in 2015.

"Factors including income and education have an important impact on health but don't tell the full story," said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray in a press release. "Looking at healthy life expectancy and health loss at the country level can help guide policies to ensure that people everywhere can have long and healthy lives no matter where they live."

This report was published in the August issue of The Lancet.

The report did not receive outside funding. Multiple authors disclosed conflicts of interest, which included funding from government sources and pharmaceutical companies.