The latest findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021 forecast that global life expectancy will increase by 4.9 years in males and 4.2 years in females between 2022 and 2050. This increase is expected to be largest in countries where life expectancy is lower, contributing to a convergence of increased life expectancy across geographies. The trend is largely driven by public health measures that have prevented and improved survival rates from cardiovascular diseases, COVID-19, and a range of communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases (CMNNs).

The study, published in The Lancet, also indicates that the ongoing shift in disease burden to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and exposure to NCD-associated risk factors will have the greatest impact on disease burden of the next generation. As the disease burden continues to shift from CMNNs to NCDs and from years of life lost (YLLs) to years lived with disability (YLDs), more people are expected to live longer, but with more years spent in poor health. Global life expectancy is forecasted to increase from 73.6 years of age in 2022 to 78.1 years of age in 2050, with global healthy life expectancy (HALE) also expected to increase from 64.8 years in 2022 to 67.4 years in 2050.

Dr. Chris Murray, Chair of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington and Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), highlighted that the disparity in life expectancy across geographies is expected to lessen, indicating that while health inequalities between the highest- and lowest-income regions will remain, the gaps are shrinking, with the biggest increases anticipated in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The study also puts forth various alternative scenarios to compare the potential health outcomes if different public health interventions could eliminate exposure to several key risk factor groups by 2050. The forecasted effects are strongest for the ‘Improved Behavioral and Metabolic Risks’ scenario, with a 13.3% reduction in disease burden (number of DALYs) in 2050 compared with the ‘Reference’ (most likely) scenario. Additionally, reductions in disease burden are also forecasted from the ‘Safer Environment’ and ‘Improved Childhood Nutrition and Vaccination’ scenarios beyond the reference forecast, demonstrating the need for continued progress and resources in these areas and the potential to accelerate progress through 2050.