People live more than a decade longer on average today than they did in 1970, but spend much of these boon years battling diseases like cancer, according to a global health review published Thursday.
By 2010, a man’s life expectancy at birth had risen 11.1 years from 1970 and that of a woman 12.1 years, said the bundle of seven studies published by The Lancet medical journal.
But as we live longer, bigger chunks of our lives are marred by illness, with non-infectious maladies like cancer and heart disease claiming ever more victims.
“Over the last 20 years, globally, we’ve added about five years to life expectancy, but only about four years to healthy life expectancy,” Josh Salomon from the Harvard School of Public Health, a study partner, told AFP by email.
“You can think about it as adding the equivalent of four years of good health and one year of bad health.”
Contributors to the study appealed for a shift in health policy focus from simply keeping people alive to keeping them healthy as well.
“Health is about more than avoiding death,” said Alan Lopez and Theo Vos of the University of Queensland’s School of Population Health in a joint statement.
The magnum opus is the work of nearly 500 authors from 50 countries, consolidating data from academic research papers, autopsy reports, hospital records and censuses, covering 291 types of disease and injury in 187 countries.
With the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, it shows a clear shift in the disease burden from traditional culprits like malnutrition, infectious diseases and birth complications that generally mow down younger people, to cancer, heart disease and diabetes that can linger for years.