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What ails ye, oh Israelis?
Life expectancy in Israel is on the rise, but so is the number of years during which our pains and ailments affect us; a new study by the Taub Institute reveals that out of all the diseases afflicting Israelis, the most common ones are back and neck pain.
The average life expectancy in Israel is 82.1 years and is considered one of the highest in the world. The infant mortality rate in Israel, relative to developed Western countries, is also considered low. But in recent years many researchers have begun to examine not only the number of years we live, but how we live them—and the results? Somewhat less positive.

 

 

A baby born in Israel is expected to live 71.7 years in good health—about a decade less than the expected life expectancy of 82.1 years, according to the Taub Institute report published on Monday. The reason: Life expectancy in good health is growing at a slower pace than the overall life expectancy (2.6 months per year in overall life expectancy, compared to 2.2 months per year in good health). The rise in the life in good health expectancy index in Israel is slightly lower than in other countries where life expectancy is high.

 

 

The Taub Institute researchers, Liora Bowers and Prof. Dov Chernichovsky, investigated the most common diseases afflicting the population in Israel today according to the Morbidity Burden index. The objective of the indicator is to examine which diseases cause pain and a decrease in the functioning and quality of life of the patient, while at the same time, causing loss of working days or decrease in labor productivity.

 

Contrary to what is commonly thought, back and neck pain cause the highest burden. Other diseases that cause the morbidity burden are heart disease, diabetes, vision and hearing-related diseases, and depression. "The burden of heart disease and stroke has considerably decreased over the past 20 years," said Bowers. "But there has been an increase in obesity and diabetes rates, which caused the opposite effect, thus preventing further possible decrease in heart disease."

 

According to the researchers, we are likely to see more people with hypertension-related illnesses, such as heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and diabetes. The Mediterranean diet, which includes high consumption of vegetables, fruits and legumes, is good for one’s health, but Israelis tend to consume relatively high amounts of sugar and salt and not enough whole grains. The problem of obesity is also very acute in Israel, especially among children, and its share of the burden of morbidity is 21% higher than in Europe.

 

Compared with European residents, Israeli residents suffer more from diabetes, kidney disease, anemia, congenital malformations and depression. The Taub Center study shows that in Israel the mortality rate from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and liver disease is significantly lower than in Europe, even after taking into account that the population in Israel is younger. On the other hand, in Israel, a higher burden is also caused by anemia, congenital malformations and depression.

 

"The link between the major health conditions that affect the morbidity burden is lifestyle," Bowers concluded. "Policy makers in Israel can influence the extension of healthy life years by encouraging better nutrition and exercise, food control and environmental design, and healthier schools." According to Bowers, whether it is back pain, diabetes or depression, the main way to ensure a healthier aging population is to focus on prevention, especially among young people and in populations from low socioeconomic backgrounds that are at high risk.

 

(Translated and edited by N. Elias)

 

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