The International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK) has launched an international programme of work exploring “Prevention in an Ageing World”, alongside the 72nd World Health Assembly.

Initial research findings reveal that among those aged 50 and over in high and high-middle sociodemographic index countries, at least 16% of the total number of years lived with disability for all diseases are attributable to largely preventable communicable and non-communicable diseases.

As demographic trends continue, the ILC-UK’s analysis suggests that 26,958,009 years will be lived with disability, resulting in tremendous losses to wellbeing and productivity. Approximately one-tenth of the total number of years lived with disability can be attributed to cardiovascular disease alone, of which 86% of those affected are aged 50 or over.

Across the OECD, childhood-vaccination rates are, on average, above 90% whereas flu vaccination rates among people aged 65 and over are, on average, just above 40%. However, of an estimated 44,000 annual deaths from the flu in Europe, 77% occur in those aged 65 and over.

Need for a shift to preventative action

As such, there is a clear need for a shift in health systems that supports preventative action across the life course. ILC-UK argues that it is never too late to take preventative action and that adults in mid and later life must be included in health promotion programmes.

Such interventions include targeted screening programmes to identify disease early, preventative medications, supporting people to adopt healthier lifestyles, vaccinations against communicable diseases, supporting people to manage long-term conditions in ways that improve their wellbeing and help them to enjoy more active longer lives.

Over the coming year, ILC-UK will engage in an international programme of work to influence and shape the discourse on prevention and promote preventative action across the life course through research and stakeholder engagement across the globe.

Long term gains from health prevention

Baroness Greengross, Chief Executive, ILC-UK, said: “While prevention spending does not tell the whole story, governments need to ensure that their stated commitments to promote health and wellbeing are backed with action.

“The longer-term gains from prevention are often not seen for years, even decades after investments are made. The true impact of our current failure to invest in prevention across the life course could well be decades of additional health and economic burdens in the years to come.” 

Dr Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant-Director General for Healthier Populations, World Health Organisation, said: “Health is crucial to how we experience older age. Most of the health problems that confront older people are associated with long term conditions and declines in physical and mental capacity. Many can be prevented or delayed by engaging in healthy behaviours and providing person-centred and integrated care.

“And even for people with significant limitations in capacity, supportive environments can ensure that they live lives of dignity and continued personal growth.”