Life expectancy improves in India, Kerala healthiest state: Study

A recent study published in the medical journal Lancet has adjudged Kerala as the healthiest state in India.

The Lancet study, which is India’s latest and most comprehensive health report card, says that life expectancy at birth has improved from 59.7 years in 1990 to 70.3 years in 2016 for females, and from 58.3 years to 66.9 years for males.

However, deaths due to non-communicable diseases are among the glaring findings of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative report published in the medical journal Lancet, which was released on Tuesday.

The findings of the study point out to severe inequalities in the disease burden in different states, suggesting the need for more specific health planning.

Kerala was adjudged as the healthiest state where men enjoyed a life expectancy of 73.8 years. However, the corresponding figure for men in Assam was 63.6 years.

Ironically, the life expectancy for females in Uttar Pradesh was 66.8 years – below the national average and 12 years less than in Kerala, where it was 78.7 years.

This meant that on an average a woman in Uttar Pradesh has twelve years shorter life span that their sisters in Kerala.

“In Uttar Pradesh, average life expectancy of females in 2016 is 66.8 years, close to four years lesser than the national average of 70.3 years, while in Kerala it is eight years more than the national average at 78.7 years,” it states.

“Life expectancy in the whole of India has improved over three decades but is still lower by eleven years than in China and Sri Lanka,” Lalit Dandona, Director, India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, was quoted as saying in the report.

As per the Lancet study, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Chattisgarh have the highest disease burden rates, while Kerala and Goa have the lowest rates.

This is probably the first-of-its-kind report on the state-wise burden of diseases, which also monitors trends over the past thirty years highlighting disparities between states.

Till now only national-level data was available, masking varying disease patterns in states. This has huge implications for policymakers because it means that one health policy and uniform health schemes may not be workable for all the states.

What should be of greater concern to our policymakers, the Lancet report says that the non-communicable diseases are on the rise across various states.

States like Punjab and Tamil Nadu have the highest disease burden due to diabetes, while on the other hand states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha are tackling highest disease burden due to infections because of unsafe water, shoddy sanitation and non-practice of hand washing, leading to deaths due to diarrhoea especially in children under five years of age.

The Lancet report also takes a potshot at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-publicised ”Swacch Bharat Abhiyan” as it states that the situation of unsafe water and sanitation is improving but “not enough yet.”

“The sweeping increase of the burden due to this combination of risks in every part of the country indicates emphatically that major efforts need to be put in place to control their impact in every state before the situation gets totally out of control,” the report warns.

Until this date, the report states that risk of malnutrition is “unacceptably high.” After thirty years it remains the single largest risk factor for disease in India. Around 15 percent of total disease burden in India is due to the child and maternal malnutrition.

While household air pollution is improving the outdoor air pollution is “worsening,” the report further says. The burden due to outdoor air pollution is highest in a mix of northern states, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, and West Bengal. Kerala, Goa, Tamilnadu have lowest rates. “The contribution of air pollution to disease burden remained high in India between 1990 and 2016, with levels of exposure among the highest in the world,” it says.

India has 72 percent more per capita disease burden than China and Sri Lanka.

The report was prepared under the Disease Burden Initiative, a joint project between the Indian Council of Medical Research, Public Health Foundation of India, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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