Disease and disability: Future trends

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Part of Time to Think Differently

This section looks at disease in the population and how this is likely to change over the next 20 years. We look at trends in mortality rates, rates of chronic disease, and the interdependence between mental and physical health problems, followed by a review of disease and disability in the population.

Key messages

  • The number of people with some diseases will double over the next 20 years
    For example, by 2030 there will be 17 million people with arthritis and 3 million with cancer. Why is this? More people are living longer; risk factors such as  obesity and inactivity are increasing; many diseases are easier to treat.
  • The number of people with more than one long-term condition is also growing rapidly
    By 2018 the number of people with three or more long-term conditions is predicted to rise from 1.9 million to 2.9 million.
  • By 2030 the number of older people with care needs is predicted to rise by 61 per cent
    Old age can trigger a number of debilitating conditions, including sight and hearing loss and dementia.
  • Significant health inequalities are likely to persist
    People in more deprived populations often have higher rates of disease – eg, heart disease – and more than one disease.
  • Continuing threats from communicable disease
    The number of cases of  HIV are continuing to rise. Anti-microbial resistant bacteria could undermine the effectiveness of some medicines.
  • Population lifestyles will be a critical determinant of future pattern of disease
    A change in population lifestyles offers the greatest opportunity to reduce the burden of chronic disease.

Key uncertainties

  • Future lifestyles: it is unclear whether current behavioural trends will continue or reverse
    Obesity rates could continue to rise, flatten or fall, and the same is true for smoking, physical activity, consumption of fruit and vegetables and alcohol consumption.
  • Future medical advances
    Cures may be found for major disease areas such as dementia, but the rate at which this might be achieved is highly uncertain.
  • Risks from communicable disease
    Globalisation increases the threat of global pandemics, but improved surveillance and analytical capacity strengthen the capacity to manage such a threat. The scale of threat posed by antimicrobial-resistant bacteria is also highly uncertain.

Next page: Long-term conditions and multi-morbidity