Life expectancy may start to drop, worldwide study suggests
Exposure to chronic disease risk factors rose in the past decade, suggesting that if lifestyle changes are not made, life expectancy could begin to drop and the COVID-19 pandemic could be exacerbated, experts said.
Their findings, published in The Lancet, are from the latest Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study.
“The world has done a poor job of reducing risks,” Emmanuela Gakidou, MSc, PhD, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and a GBD study author, said during a conference call with reporters. “This is fueling a global chronic disease crisis.”
The GBD reported on 286 causes of death, 369 diseases and injuries and 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories. According to Gakidou, one of the greatest concerns from the study is that blood sugar, obesity, BP and air pollution rates rose globally between 0% and 2% each year since 2010. These risk factors contributed to 6.5 million, 5 million, 11 million and 6.67 million worldwide deaths, respectively, in 2019, according to a press release.
In addition, life expectancy in the United States — which researchers said has not improved since 2010 — was 78.9 years in 2019, lower than the 81.3 years average in all high-income countries. Gakidou said these numbers could begin to drop soon.
“This growing exposure to metabolic risks, combined with rising cardiovascular disease in many places, is a clear indication that after decades of increasing life expectancy, the world may be reaching a turning point,” she said.
The world’s declining health could also make things worse in the COVID-19 pandemic, Christopher J.L Murray, MD, DPhil, director of the IHME, said during the call.
“This shift towards disability is also a shift towards vulnerability,” he said, adding that physicians can “help their patients identify the big opportunities for improving their patient's health through modifying some of those risk factors.”
Richard Horton, FRCP, FRCPCH, FMedSci, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, noted during the call that physicians are not the only ones responsible for improving public health.
“There has been much less attention at the policy level of how big of a problem this is,” he said.
Horton noted that a solution “will entail individual action, community action and policy at the national and the global level.”