Almost 200 countries found that increases in life expectancy on research – achieved thanks to improvements in sanitation and immunisation – are being eroded.
Bad diets and unhealthy lifestyles have become the biggest threat to life expectancy, fuelling seven in 10 deaths, a major Lancet study has found.
The Global Burden of Disease study gathered data on 249 causes of death, 315 diseases and injuries and 79 risk factors in 195 countries and territories between 1990 and 2015.
While deaths caused by infectious diseases such as malaria and flu have fallen sharply, the proportion of fatalities fuelled by lifestyles have soared.
These include conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, all of which are affected by diet and lifestyle.
The research found high blood pressure – which is fuelled by obesity and lack of exercise – was the top risk factor for deaths, contributing to over 9 per cent of global health loss.
This was followed by smoking (6.3 per cent), high blood sugar (6.1 per cent), and high body mass index (5 per cent).
And although UK adults are living longer, millions are finding their later years blighted by poor health, the study found. On average, women can expect to spend their last 10 years in ill-health, the report says, while men will spend their last nine year suffering from health problems.
Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at Public Health England said: “Countries used to worry about the impact of infections like HIV, malaria and measles on people’s health, but now it’s the fallout from poor diets, smoking and drinking too much. “
“On one hand, it’s a sign of successfully preventing infections, but on the other, it tells us how much more we have to do.”
The findings showed that healthy life expectancy had increased steadily in 191 countries, adding an average 6.1 years to people’s life spans over the course of 15 years.
But overall life expectancy had risen further, by 10.1 years, suggesting that by 2015 people were spending a greater proportion of their lives in ill-health.
The research shows that health gains from progress on infectious diseases were cancelled out by a rising tide of illness, disability and death linked to lifestyles.
Britain’s obesity levels are the second worst in Europe, with six in ten adults obese.
Poor diet is fuelling diseases such as type two diabetes, with a 60 per cent rise in cases over the past decade, and obesity is on course to overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer.
Overall, life expectancy in this country is now 82 for women and 79 for men, the new study shows.
But the research shows that the last decade is spent battling ill-health and disability, with women only having a “healthy life expectancy” of 72, while for men it is 70.
In the UK, heart disease is the leading cause of death, followed by Alzheimer’s disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Dr. Heidi Larson, Director of European Initiatives and a Clinical Associate Professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said: “The UK has made important advances in reducing child and maternal deaths and extending overall life expectancy.
“Alongside this progress, though, there are new health challenges, some of which will need more science and revisited health policies and others which need citizens to make healthier lifestyle choices.”