Men more likely to have health conditions that lead to premature deaths – study

Men are more likely to have health conditions that lead to premature death, while women live longer so face higher levels of illness and disability throughout their lives, new research suggests.

The global study indicates there are stark differences between men and women when it comes to health.

The findings also suggest little progress has been made over the past 30 years to bridge the gap.

Non-fatal conditions that lead to poor health through illness and disability, including conditions that affect bones and muscles, mental health conditions, and headache disorders, particularly affect women.

Men are disproportionately affected by conditions that lead to more premature death, such as Covid-19, road injuries, heart diseases, and respiratory and liver diseases, the study suggests.

According to the findings, these differences continue to grow with age.

Senior author Dr Luisa Sorio Flor, at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington, USA, said: “This report clearly shows that over the past 30 years global progress on health has been uneven.

“Females have longer lives but live more years in poor health, with limited progress made in reducing the burden of conditions leading to illness and disability, underscoring the urgent need for greater attention to non-fatal consequences that limit women’s physical and mental function, especially at older ages.

“Similarly, males are experiencing a much higher and growing burden of disease with fatal consequences.”

The study is also a call to action for countries to increase their reporting of sex and gender data, researchers say.

Dr Sorio Flor added: “The timing is right for this study and call to action – not only because of where the evidence is now, but because Covid-19 has starkly reminded us that sex differences can profoundly impact health outcomes.

“One key point the study highlights is how females and males differ in many biological and social factors that fluctuate and, sometimes, accumulate over time, resulting in them experiencing health and disease differently at each stage of life and across world regions.

“The challenge now is to design, implement and evaluate sex- and gender-informed ways of preventing and treating the major causes of morbidity and premature mortality from an early age and across diverse populations.”

The study looked at the disparities in the 20 leading causes of illness and death between men and women, across ages and regions, and is published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The modelling research used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021, and did not include sex-specific health conditions, such as gynaecological conditions or prostate cancers.

Woman with head in hands
The study suggests the biggest contributors globally that disadvantage women include low back pain, headache disorders and anxiety disorders (PA)

The analysis estimates that for 13 out of the top 20 causes of illness and death, including Covid-19, road injuries, and a range of heart, respiratory and liver diseases, the rate was higher in men than women in 2021.

Co-lead author Dr Vedavati Patwardhan, from the University of California, USA, said: “Our findings shine a light on the significant and unique health challenges faced by males.

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

“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.”

Among the conditions evaluated, the study suggests that the biggest contributors globally that disadvantage women are low back pain, depressive disorders, headache disorders, anxiety disorders, other bone and muscle disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and HIV/Aids.

These conditions contribute to illness and disability throughout life as opposed to leading to premature death, the study found.

Pint glasses on a table in a pub
The authors said national health plans to address the health needs of men, including interventions targeting behavioural risks such as alcohol use, are needed (Alamy/PA)

Co-lead author Gabriela Gil, from the IHME, said: “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.”

She added: “Conditions that disproportionately impact females in all world regions, such as depressive disorders, are significantly underfunded compared with the massive burden they exert, with only a small proportion of government health expenditure globally earmarked for mental health conditions.

“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.”

The analysis was limited to data on females and males and could not produce estimates for gender-diverse or sex-diverse groups, highlighting the need for more data spanning the sex and gender spectrums.