Women live longer – but with worse health, study finds

Women are more likely to live longer than men, but they will do so with worse chronic health, new research reveals.

Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies of any nation on Earth, with males born today expected to reach 85.3 years of age and women 88 years.

That difference in life expectancy between sexes is not just an Australian phenomenon and is repeated in pretty much every other developed nation.

A win for the ladies, right? Well, maybe not.

Research published in The Lancet Public Health journal reveals that although women live longer than men, they endure more chronic but non-fatal health conditions over the course of their lives.

The study looked at the total number of life years lost to illness and premature death for 20 leading causes of disease in men and women aged over 10 years old.

Conditions classed as ‘causing premature death’ included COVID-19, road accidents, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and liver disease. Globally, men were found to die from one of these 20 causes almost 50 per cent more than their female counterparts.

But women were much more likely to suffer from non-fatal health conditions and suffered a greater burden of disease. These conditions included musculoskeletal conditions, mental health problems and headache disorders.

Women face greater burden of disease

The researchers found the discrepancies between the sexes increased with age, meaning women were left to deal with higher levels of illness and disability than males because they live longer.

Professor Gabriela Gil, co-author of the study, says the results should be a wake-up call for those writing public health policy around the world.

“Large causes of health loss in women, particularly musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions, have not received the attention that they deserve,” she says.

“It’s clear that women’s healthcare needs to extend well beyond areas that health systems and research funding have prioritised to date, such as sexual and reproductive concerns.” 

Prof. Gil notes that conditions that disproportionately affect women, such as depressive disorders, are usually the most underfunded, exacerbating the health gap.

“Future health system planning must encompass the full spectrum of issues affecting females throughout their lives, especially given the higher level of disability they endure and the growing ratio of females to males in ageing populations.”

Men more likely to die prematurely

The research showed 13 of the top 20 causes of death killed more men than women during the study period.

Just as the results should inform women’s public health policy, there are also insights to be gained in the challenges facing men’s healthcare, says Dr Vedavati Patwardhan, another co-author of the study.

“Among these challenges are conditions that lead to premature deaths, notably in the form of road injuries, cancers, and heart disease,” she says.

“We need national health plans and strategies to address the health needs of men throughout their lives, including interventions targeting behavioural risks such as alcohol use and smoking that typically begin at a young age.”

For what it’s worth, Australia has a national strategy for both men’s and women’s health policy covering this decade. So far, Australia is one of only a handful of countries (along with Ireland, Iran, Brazil, Malaysia, Mongolia and South Africa) to actually have a national men’s health strategy.

What should be done to help women with their greater disease burden? How can we increase the life expectancy of men? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Women more likely to be impacted by this rare skin condition

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyerhttps://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/bradlockyer/
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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