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Global Life Expectancy Climbs Higher Than Healthy Life Across the World

First Posted: Aug 27, 2015 07:01 AM EDT

Global life expectancy is climbing. Now, scientists have found that it's risen by more than six years since 1990 as healthy life expectancy grows.

People around the world are living longer, even in some of the poorest countries, but a complex mix of fatal and nonfatal ailments causes a huge amount of health loss. However, life expectancy grows; global life expectancy for both sexes from from 65.3 in 1990 to 71.5 in 2013. Healthy life expectancy, though, rose by 5.4 years from 56.9 to 62.3.

Healthy life expectancy takes into account not just mortality, but also the impact of nonfatal conditions and summarizes years lived with disability and years lost due to premature mortality. The increase in healthy life expectancy has not been as dramatic as the growth of life expectancy. This means that people are living more years with illness and disability.

"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," said Theo Vos, the new study's lead author, in a news release.

As both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy increase, changes in rates of health loss become increasingly crucial. The leading cause of health loss in 2013 were ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, stroke, low back and neck pain, and road injuries. These causes were also divided by gender; for males, road injuries were a top-five cause of health loss and for females, depressive disorders caused substantially more health loss.

"Looking at health life expectancy and health loss at the country level can help guide policies to ensure that people everywhere can have long and healthy lives no matter where they live," said Christopher Murray, one of the researchers.

The findings are published in the journal The Lancet.

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