Live Long and Prosper: Global Wellness Increased

Life expectancy rose around the world as death toll from major illnesses dropped

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Good news for the people of Earth: people are living much longer than they were 20 years ago, and death rates have dropped for certain cancers, heart disease, stroke and other major diseases around the world.

Lower rates of heart disease deaths in high-income countries and healthier children in low-income countries have contributed to this improving picture of life expectancy, according to extensive new research by a consortium of more than 700 scientists around the world.

This study, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, analyzed 240 causes of death for 188 countries between 1990 and 2013.

"People today are less likely than their parents to die from certain conditions, but there are more people of older ages throughout the world," said study author Christopher J.L. Murray, MD, director of the IHME, in a press release. "This is an encouraging trend as people are living longer. We just need to make sure we are making the right health policy decisions today to prepare for the health challenges and associated costs that are coming."

Overall, Dr. Murray and colleagues observed that global life expectancy at birth continued to improve over the past 23 years. Life expectancy worldwide rose for both sexes from 65.3 years old in 1990 to 71.5 in 2013.

Women fared a little better than men. Their life expectancy at birth rose by 6.6 years — compared to 5.8 years for men.

These improvements were driven largely by declines in diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, and neonatal (related to newborns) causes in low-income countries. These researchers noted, however, that these are still leading causes of illness in children.

Dr. Murray and colleagues noted that deaths from diarrhea dropped by more than half. Death due to measles decreased 83 percent over the course of the study.

Decreases in cardiovascular diseases and some cancers in middle- and high-income countries also contributed to people living longer. From 1990 to 2013, the lung cancer death rate dropped by 9 percent. Breast cancer dropped by 18 percent and leukemia by 20 percent.

Dr. Murray and team also found that death rates from rheumatic heart disease, peptic ulcer disease, appendicitis and schizophrenia fell by more than one-third since 1990.

Still, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) claimed the most lives in 2013. They were responsible for almost a third of all deaths.

Ischemic heart disease is characterized by decreased blood flow to the heart. Stroke is a stoppage of blood flow to the brain. COPD is one of the most common lung conditions and makes breathing difficult.

While deaths from several cancers declined, the reverse was true for pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Some other increases in premature deaths were due to drug use disorders, diabetes, intentional injuries, cirrhosis, HIV/AIDS, chronic kidney disease and Alzheimer's disease.

This study was published Dec. 18 in The Lancet.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 17, 2014
Last Updated:
December 20, 2014