The coronavirus pandemic was fueled by a 'perfect storm' of increasing rates of chronic diseases and air pollution, a new study suggests.
Researchers say the global rise of underlying conditions such as obesity and high blood sugar and the growing proportion of regions that have become smog-filled over the last 30 years drove up death rates from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The rates of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure were on the rise before the coronavirus pandemic hit, as were heart disease deaths in many countries, including the US.
Coupled with the pandemic's crushing death toll, life expectancy gains made worldwide over the past several years may be halted, the study University of Washington researchers warned.
The team, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), says the findings show how urgent action is needed to address chronic diseases to ensure healthier people that will make countries more resilient against any future pandemics.
Global healthy life expectancy, the number of years a person can expect to have good health, has risen by 6.5 years since 1990 and in US to 65.2 years old. Pictured: Countries and how many years of 'healthy' life were lost in 1990
However, it has increased more slowly than life expectancy, suggesting more people are living more years of their lives in poor health. Pictured: Countries and how many years of 'healthy' life were lost in 2019, an increase from 1990
'Most of these risk factors are preventable and treatable, and tackling them will bring huge social and economic benefits,' said lead author Dr Christopher Murray, Director of the IHME at the University of Washington
'We are failing to change unhealthy behaviors, particularly those related to diet quality, caloric intake, and physical activity, in part due to inadequate policy attention and funding for public health and behavioral research.'
For The Global Burden of Disease Study, published in The Lancet, the team looked at 204 countries and territories.
They analyzed 87 risk factors, 286 causes of death and 369 diseases and injuries, to determine how well countries were prepared for the impact of the pandemic.
The team says the global crisis of chronic diseases and failure of public health system to stem them left populations across the world vulnerable to COVID-19.
Results showed that global healthy life expectancy, which is the number of years a person can expect to have good health, has increased by more than 6.5 years between 1990 and 2019.
In the US, health life expectancy has risen to 65.2 years, but it is below the average for high-income countries at 67.4 years.
Additionally, it has also increased more slowly than life expectancy, which currently sits at 78.9 years.
This suggests that Americans are living more years of their lives in poor health than they were in 1990.
Results showed that this is due in part to increasing numbers of cardiovascular deaths - in fact, a 16.7 percent increase from 2010 to 2019, which reversed a 50-year decline in mortality rates from cardiovascular disease.