Global life expectancy up - but so is chronic disease and disability

High blood pressure, smoking and alcohol take their toll on quality of life

Life expectancy is increasing among the world’s population but people have higher levels of sickness than before, a major scientific study has found.

The largest ever study of the global burden of disease, published this week, shows that high blood pressure, smoking and drinking alcohol are now the highest risk factors for ill health. They replace child malnourishment, which topped the list in 1990.

It means that people are living longer in chronic pain and with physical and mental disabilities.

The new estimates show that, globally, the average life expectancy of males born in 2010 is more than 11 years higher than those born in 1970 – increasing from 56 years to nearly 68 years. Females born in 2010 had an increased life expectancy of 12 years and can expect to live to more than 73 years of age.

But while people around the world can now expect to live longer, the gap in life expectancy between countries with the highest and lowest figures was broadly unchanged since 1970.

The five-year project, involving almost 500 authors, found heart disease and stroke caused around one in four deaths – almost 13 million – worldwide. HIV/Aids, meanwhile, accounts for 1.5 million deaths that year.

Diseases such as diabetes and lung cancer moved up the rankings, while diarrhoea and tuberculosis are down.

Prof Christopher Murray, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, led the work which was funded by the non-profit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He said: "There's been a progressive shift from early death to chronic disability.

"What ails you isn't necessarily what kills you."

The research, published in the Lancet, can be found here.

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