Researchers from NHS Health Scotland and the Information Services Division of NHS National Services Scotland have published new analysis of Scotland’s health. The publication shows the extent to which different diseases affect Scotland’s health and life expectancy.

The researchers have used a globally recognised approach, referred to as ‘Burden of Disease’ to quantify the difference between the ideal of living to old age in good health, and the situation where healthy life is shortened by illness, injury, disability and early death. The analysis identifies the most common causes of disease burden in Scotland in 2015.

Ischaemic heart disease came top of the list, with 100,400 years lost to ill health and early death, followed by neck and lower back pain at 90,200 years and depression at 76,000 years. Lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was fourth with 60,700 years lost followed by lung cancer at 56,900 years. Overall, the report identifies 25 specific diseases, conditions and injuries, which accounted for almost 70% of the overall burden of disease in Scotland in 2015.

The Burden of Disease measure calculates the years of life lost because of early death combined with the years of good quality life lost because they are lived in less than ideal health. This results in one figure for each condition, known as the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

This information will help planners and policy makers to focus on policies that could prevent these conditions, and the services needed to help people living with these conditions.

The report also analysed the gender differences. It found that women suffered a proportionally higher disease burden from lower back and neck pain, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, migraine, arthritis and anxiety disorders, compared to men. Men, on the other hand, suffered a proportionately higher disease burden from ischaemic heart disease, suicide and self-harm related injuries, alcohol and drug use disorders, and chronic liver disease (including cirrhosis).

Age differences were also analysed. Adults aged 35 to 64 suffered 40% of the disease burden. Those aged 65 years and over experienced 45% of the disease burden. For those aged less than 65 years, around 60% of their burden is through living in less than ideal health.

Dr Diane Stockton, the study lead at NHS Health Scotland, said
“This set of studies provides the most accurate picture we have ever had of the impact of different diseases and conditions on the Scottish population. It is the first time that estimates of burden of disease have been calculated using the full range of sources of data available, specifically for Scotland.

There are more person-years of poor health lost due to neck and lower back pain than are lost are due to early heart disease deaths, and more person-years of poor health lost due to depression than lung cancer deaths. This is a stark reminder that living longer does not necessarily equate to healthy, happy life.
It is important to address the burden of living in less than ideal health so that more people in Scotland can live longer, healthier lives.”

Dr Ian Grant, Principal Researcher at Information Services Division, said
“Today’s report is just the beginning. Over the coming months we will be publishing further material to help support local planning and national decision making. This will include the likely impact of the ageing population, socio-economic analysis and analysis by local area. Arming planners and decision makers with this information will be a significant step forward in ensuring that services and policies are well targeted to the Scottish people.”