Men and women across the world are living, on average, six years longer than they did 25 years ago, a new study today reveals.
Life expectancy, even in some of the world’s poorest nations, is rising.
Of particular interest is the fact healthy life expectancy – the number of years a person lives in good health – is also growing.
But in their analysis, experts at the University of Washington note that global life expectancy is rising faster than healthy life expectancy – meaning people are enduring more years of illness or disability.
The study of 188 countries identifies heart disease, lower respiratory infections (those affecting the airways and the lungs) and stroke as causing the greatest degree of health loss, globally.
However marked declines in death and illness triggered by HIV/Aids and malaria – combined with significant medical advances – mean that health has improved across the world in the last decade.
Life expectancy for both sexes rose by 6.2 years, from 65.3 in 1990 to 71.5 in 2013.
Meanwhile healthy life expectancy at birth rose by 5.4 years, from 56.9 years in 1990 to 62.3 in 2013.
The research was conducted by an international consortium of researchers working on the Global Burden of Disease study, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Professor Theo Vos, the study’s lead author, said: ‘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.’
For most countries, changes in healthy life expectancy for men and women between 1990 and 2013 were significant and positive, Professor Vos’s team found.
But, in dozens of nations, including Botswana, Belize, and Syria, healthy life expectancy in 2013 was not significantly higher than in 1990.
In some of those countries, including South Africa, Paraguay, and Belarus, healthy life expectancy has actually dropped since 1990.
People born in Lesotho and Swaziland in 2013 could expect to live at least 10 fewer years in good health than people born in those countries two decades earlier.
But people in countries such as Nicaragua and Cambodia have experienced dramatic increases in healthy life expectancy since 1990, 14.7 years and 13.9 years, respectively.
The reverse was true for people in Botswana and Belize, which saw declines of two years and 1.3 years, respectively.
The authors of the study note the differences between countries with the highest and lowest healthy life expectancies are stark.
In 2013, Lesotho had the lowest, at 42 years, while Japan had the highest globally, at 73.4 years.
Even regionally, researchers noted a significant variation.
In South East Asia, Cambodians and Laotians born in 2013 would have healthy life expectancies of only 57.5 years and 58.1 years, respectively,
But their neighbours born in nearby Thailand and Vietnam could live nearly 67 years in good health.
As both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy increase, changes in rates of health loss become increasingly crucial.
The study’s researchers use DALYs, or disability-adjusted life years, to compare the health of different populations and health conditions across time.
One DALY equals one lost year of healthy life and is measured by the sum of years of life lost to early death and years lived with disability.
The leading global causes of health loss, as measured by DALYs, in 2013 were heart disease, lower respiratory infections, stroke, low back and neck pain, and road injuries.