Women live longer in poor health than men, a study into the gender health gap has found

Women live longer than men but experience more years in poor health, according to an analysis of the global gender health gap, which experts say underlines the urgent need for action to improve women’s health.

There are substantial health gaps between women and men worldwide, with only limited progress in closing health gaps over the past three decades, according to the study examining the impact of the top 20 causes of disease in the world.

The findings were published in the journal Lancet Public Health.

Nonfatal conditions that cause illness and disability, such as musculoskeletal problems, mental health problems and headache disorders, mainly affect women, researchers found.

At the same time, men are disproportionately affected by conditions that cause premature death, such as cardiovascular, respiratory and liver diseases, Covid-19 and road injuries.

Health disparities between women and men continue to grow with age, meaning women are more likely to suffer from disease and disability throughout their lives because they tend to live longer than men.


The study senior authorDr. Luisa Sorio Flor of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington, said: “This report clearly shows that global health progress has been uneven over the past thirty years.

“Women are living longer, but living longer in poor health, with limited progress in reducing the burden of conditions that lead to illness and disability. This underlines the urgent need for more attention to non-fatal consequences that limit women’s physical and mental functioning, especially in old age. Likewise, men experience a much higher and growing burden of disease with fatal consequences.”

The study is also a call for countries to improve their reporting of sex and gender data, Sorio Flor said. “The timing is right for this research and the call to action – not just because of where the evidence is now, but because Covid-19 has clearly reminded us that gender differences can have a profound impact on health outcomes.

“A key point that emerges from the research is how women and men differ in many biological and social factors that fluctuate and sometimes accumulate over time, causing them to have different health and experience illness.

“The challenge now is to design, implement and evaluate sex- and gender-informed ways to prevent and treat the leading causes of morbidity and premature death from young ages and in diverse populations.”

The study looked at differences in the top 20 causes of illness and death between men and women, across ages and regions.

The modeling study used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021and did not include gender-specific health conditions, such as gynecological conditions or prostate cancer.

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

Of the conditions evaluated, the findings suggested that low back pain, depressive disorders, headache disorders, anxiety disorders, bone and muscle disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and HIV and AIDS are the leading causes disadvantaging women.

These conditions contribute to illness and disability throughout life and do not lead to premature death, the study found.

Gabriela Gil, co-lead author of the study, from the IHME, said: “It is clear that women’s healthcare needs to go well beyond the areas that healthcare systems and research funding have so far prioritized, such as sexual and reproductive issues. ”

“Conditions that disproportionately affect women in all parts of the world, such as depressive disorders, are significantly underfunded compared to the enormous burden they impose, with only a small proportion of public health expenditure globally earmarked for mental health problems.

“Future healthcare system planning must include the full spectrum of issues that women face throughout their lives, especially given the higher levels of disability they experience and the growing ratio of women to men in the aging population.”

The analysis was limited to data on women and men and could not provide estimates for gender-diverse or sex-diverse groups, highlighting the need for more data that span the sex and gender spectrum.