Comparing healthy life expectancy for 187 countries, in 1990 and 2010, the researchers were able to evaluate major patterns and trends in global health over two decades. They found that life expectancy has increased in 19 of 21 regions around the world, but, although people are living longer, they are spending these later years living with poor health.
Healthy life expectancy has increased more slowly than life expectancy over the last 20 years, and substantial differences in healthy life expectancy persist across countries. Gains in healthy life expectancy over the last two decades have been made primarily through reductions in child and adult mortality rather than reductions in years lived with a disability.
“In the past two decades, there has been less attention towards reducing the impact of non-fatal disease and injury than towards reducing mortality,” said Dr. Haidong Wang, professor of global health at IHME and one of the co-authors on the healthy life expectancy paper. “As the global population is living longer, efforts to improve health need to also incorporate the burden of disease that affects how we function.”
Over the last six decades, advances in medicine and public health, improved living standards, rising levels of educational attainment, and declines in fertility have contributed to dramatic reductions in mortality in most regions of the world. With the accompanying trend of people surviving to more advanced ages, there is increased recognition of the need to prioritize healthy aging.
In 2010, global HALE at birth was 58.3 years for males and 61.8 for females, compared to 54.4 and 57.8, respectively, in 1990. Overall life expectancy exceeded HALE in 2010 with a difference of 9.2 years for males and 11.5 years for females. While life expectancy at birth for males and females increased by 4.7 years for males and 5.1 years for females, HALE at birth increased only 3.9 years and 4.0 years, respectively. This indicates that, on average, the world loses more years of healthy life to disability today than 20 years ago.
The gap between the sexes in both life expectancy and HALE continues to widen, too. Gains have been higher for women in both life expectancy and HALE. Just three countries have higher healthy life expectancy rankings for males than for females. Canada, the UK, and the USA ranked 7th, 20th, and 32nd, respectively, for male healthy life expectancy at birth, and 23rd, 29th, and 35th for female healthy life expectancy.
While HALE has increased in most regions, there are two dramatic exceptions: Southern Africa, where adult mortality from HIV/AIDS has erased years of life expectancy, and the Caribbean, where the 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed an enormous number of people. Across countries, healthy life expectancy at birth in 2010 for males ranged from 27.9 in Haiti to 68.8 in Japan, and healthy life expectancy at birth for females ranged from 37.1 in Haiti to 71.7 in Japan.
Source: Harvard School of Public Health, USA