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Study Examines Global Impact of Disability

Posted on Jan 04, 2013

People all over the world are living longer lives; however, these long lives are not necessarily healthier. The extra years lived are often marked by mental and physical disability.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle led a study on the global burden of disease and injury that included 486 scientists from 302 institutions in 50 countries. The project was a revision of a 1990 assessment. The new study was published in the December 13, 2012, issue of the medical journal, The Lancet.

As recently the 1970s, people in developing countries rarely lived past their forties or fifties. Since then, we’ve made great progress in reducing deaths resulting from malnutrition, infectious disease, and childhood illness. With better medical care, even people with disabilities, including musculoskeletal ailments and mental illness, are able to live longer lives. Now, people around the world (except in sub-Saharan Africa) commonly live to the age of 70, 80, or even older. But, as people live longer, they continue to suffer from existing disabilities and are more likely to suffer from noncommunicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease. In fact, heart disease and other ailments related to obesity and high blood pressure are the major challenges facing modern health systems.

While living longer is a wonderful thing, at a population level, longer lives mean higher costs, both in health care and in disability benefits such as SSDI. The authors of the study noted that while disability worldwide is increasing, it is impossible to determine the exact cost of these disabilities. This is in part because different countries collect data in different ways. However, it is believed that the study will help shape national and foreign policy regarding health care, disability, and disability benefits.

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John L. Keefe
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