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Indians living a longer but unhealthy life: study

Jun 26, 2015

According to a new study, ailments including diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases pose an increasing threat to health in India.

New Delhi: Even as people across India are living longer, they are spending more time in ill health as rates of nonfatal diseases and injuries including major depressive disorder, iron-deficiency anemia, and low back pain decline more slowly than death rates, says a new study on years lived with disabilities (YLDs).

The study titled Global Burden of Disease-2013 is an analysis of more than 300 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in around 188 countries. The study examines the extent, pattern, and trends of nonfatal health loss across countries.

Published in The Lancet, the study was conducted by an international consortium of researchers working on the Global Burden of Disease project and led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The study states that years lived with disability (YLDs) quantifies the impact of health problems that impair mobility, hearing, or vision, or cause pain in some way.

In 2013, migraines, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and hearing loss were among the 10 leading causes of YLDs in India. Other leading causes included neck pain, diabetes, and anxiety disorders. For both sexes combined, the leading causes of years lived with disability have remained largely the same during this time period, but they take an increased toll on health due to population growth and aging.

For women in India, other musculoskeletal disorders that include shoulder injuries and fractures from osteoporosis and diabetes have replaced diarrheal diseases and uncorrected refractive error that causes vision problems as leading causes of YLDs.

Between 1990 and 2013, YLDs from diabetes among women increased by 109%, and YLDs from other musculoskeletal disorders increased by 110%. However, iron-deficiency anemia YLDs decreased by 12%.

For Indian men, too, diabetes YLDs increased between 1990 and 2013, climbing 136%. YLDs from COPD increased by 76%, whereas iron-deficiency anemia YLDs decreased by 32%.

“The health of Indians is increasingly threatened by depression, back pain, and migraines,” said Dr Vivekanand Jha, Executive Director - George Institute for Global Health, India and study co-author.

Jha said that diseases like iron-deficiency anemia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease are costing Indians many years of healthy life. “It is critical that we understand which diseases and injuries are causing disability so that we can effectively allocate resources,” he said.

Between 1990 and 2013, YLDs increased globally from 537.6 million in 1990 to 764.8 million in 2013 for both sexes. Men and women around the world share the same leading causes of YLDs, with the exception of schizophrenia as a leading cause for men and other musculoskeletal disorders for women.

According to the study, musculoskeletal disorders, mental and substance use disorders, neurological disorders, and chronic respiratory conditions were the main drivers of YLDs in 2013. Notably, the disease burdens of both low back pain and depression have increased more than 50% since 1990.

Researchers found that as people aged they experienced a greater number of ailments resulting from nonfatal diseases and injuries. Many people also suffered from multiple conditions at the same time, the study highlighted.

The number of people who suffered from ten or more ailments increased by 52%. But it’s not just the elderly who are affected. Although the impact of YLDs increases with age, of the 2.3 billion people who suffered from more than five ailments, 81% of them were younger than 65 years old.

A relatively small number of diseases have a massive impact, researchers found. Just two acute diseases – affecting people for less than three months – caused more than 20 billion new cases of disease globally in 2013: upper respiratory infections (18.8 billion) and diarrheal diseases (2.7 billion).

And, just eight causes of chronic diseases – affecting people for three months or longer – impacted more than 10% of the world’s population. These included tension-type headaches and iron-deficiency anemia.

“What ails you isn’t necessarily what kills you,” said IHME Director Dr Christopher Murray. “As nonfatal illnesses and related ailments affect more people of all ages, countries must look closely at health policy and spending to target these conditions,” he said.

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