Longer life is bringing more years of living with disabling health problems, a new study has found.
The Global Burden of Disease Study determined that 2.3 billion people – almost a third of the world’s inhabitants – live with multiple ailments, many of which contribute to disability but not death. In fact, the average older adult suffers from at least five ailments that are not life-threatening. More than 95 percent of people worldwide have health issues.
Researchers analyzed data on 301 diseases and injuries from 188 countries over a period from 1990 through 2013, quantifying their impact by years lived in disability, or YLD.
Theo Vos, a professor of global health at the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation and the detailed study’s lead author, said the most common causes of disability were largely age related.
"Across the world, the two largest components are musculoskeletal problems – low back pain, neck pain and arthritis being very dominant" – and mental disorders including depression and anxiety, Vos said.
Study findings were published this week in the journal The Lancet and summarized on the website of the institute.
The top 10 leading causes of YLD among both sexes in 2013, in descending order of frequency, were: lower back pain, depression; iron-deficiency anemia, neck pain, hearing loss, diabetes mellitus, migraines, pulmonary disease, anxiety disorders and other musculoskeletal disorders.
Asian countries had the lowest levels of disability, researchers found.
"China, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore – they have relatively lower rates of disability," Vos said. "And whether that is due to more prudent lifestyles, diet, less obesity, that is not so clear."
In sub-Saharan Africa, complications related to HIV/AIDS were key drivers of disability.
Given their toll on healthcare systems and quality of life, Vos said, preventable causes of poor health have not received the societal attention they deserve.