If you’re currently suffering from a cough, cold or a more serious illness, then you’re definitely not alone. In a major study of disease burden worldwide, it’s been revealed that over 95% of the world’s population has health problems. In addition to this, over a third—roughly 2.3 billion people—were found to have more than five conditions.
The study, conducted by The Lancet, analyzed over 35,000 sources of data spanning 23 years and 188 countries. It is the biggest and most detailed investigation yet of global patterns of illness and how they have changed between 1990 and 2013. The authors found that whilst rates of death may have been decreasing, the rates of people living with illness and disability are falling at a much slower rate. The team suggests that health initiatives need to do more than focus solely on death rates, as these don't tell the full story of global health.
“The fact that mortality is declining faster than non-fatal disease and injury prevalence is further evidence of the importance of paying attention to the rising health loss from these leading causes of disability, and not simply focusing on reducing mortality,” says Theo Vos, lead author and professor of global health at the University of Washington. For example, the scientists were able to show that whilst rates of diabetes have increased by 43%, the death rate from diabetes has only risen by 9%.
During the 23-year study period, the researchers were able to show that the most common causes of health loss have essentially remained unchanged. Lower back pain, depression, and age-related hearing loss, amongst other problems, still dominate the top of the list of major ailments. What they have shown, however, is that “years of healthy life” lost because of illness have increased by 10% during the past two decades.
The main reason for this is the decline in death rates, meaning that as the world’s population grows and the number of older individuals rises, there are more people living with health conditions that become more prevalent as we age. The authors warn that this problem—an aging population living in suboptimal health—is only set to rapidly increase in the coming years.
“Large, preventable causes of health loss, particularly serious musculoskeletal disorders [such as back pain and arthritis] and mental and behavioral disorders, have not received the attention that they deserve. Addressing these issues will require a shift in health priorities around the world, not just to keep people alive into old age, but also to keep them healthy,” concludes Vos.