Israel drops to 9th globally in life expectancy, diabetes on the rise: study

Israeli law does not oblige restaurants to be kosher, and non-kosher establishments are common, mainly in areas with a less religiously-observant Jewish population
Menahem Kahana (AFP)
Study examines the burden of disease on quality of life and outlines Israel's healthcare priorities

Israel has dropped to ninth in the overall global ranking of life expectancy and heath risk factors such as diabetes are on the rise, a new study has found.

The study conducted by Liora Bowers and Prof. Dov Chernichovsky at the Taub Center, an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute, aimed to examine the burden of disease on the quality of life for Israelis and outline the country's healthcare priorities.

The researchers found that the average life expectancy for an individual in Israel is 82.1 years, a figure which has "remained fairly stagnant over the last couple years," causing the country to fall from it's fifth place ranking in 2013, to ninth.

Additionally, the study revealed that the average Israeli will live only 71.7 of those years in good health, "slightly lower than that of other countries known for their longevity," with the remainder affected by what the researchers called "disease burden".

Examining a 25-year period between 1990 and 2015, Israel has seen a drop in many disease burdens, such as lung cancer and liver disease, but are seeing a rise in others.

"The five conditions causing the greatest disease burden are neck and back pain, heart disease, diabetes, vision and hearing problems, and depression (in that order)," according to the study.

Bowers noted that there has been a significant decrease in the burden of heart disease and stroke -58 percent since 1990- because of better detection and treatment, and the development of new medications to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

However, she said, "an increase in body mass index (BMI) and in diabetes rates has had the opposite effect, and mitigated the reduction in heart disease that might have otherwise been seen."

Data from the study revealed that Israelis consume "relatively high amounts of sugar, and not enough whole grains," and that nearly half of Israeli children drink beverages sweetened with sugar on a daily basis- a rate "even higher than in the United States."

The researchers acknowledged that Ministry of Health "has taken significant steps" in pushing for families to pursue healthier eating habits, such as prohibiting unhealthy food products from being sold in schools and changing labeling and marketing practices.

Yet, despite these steps, they point out that "a major problem facing the public is the high cost of a healthy food basket that contains sufficient fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy oils, which is unaffordable for many."

The study also revealed that Israelis experience a higher rate of disease burden from diabetes, anemia, kidney-related disease, birth defects and depression than their European counterparts.

Israel provides universal healthcare for its citizens, however, the researchers observe, "the Health Basket Committee, as well as policymakers and the public, focuses primarily on technologies that prevent death, and devotes fewer resources to addressing the disease burden caused by non-fatal diseases."

"Even though they do not directly lead to death, these conditions impose a large burden on many and exact a heavy price," they added.

The researchers focused specifically on comparing Israeli health habits and issues with those of Europe, which is home to a greater percentage of older citizens, with the hope that their data will help Israel "understand which health problems are likely to affect Israel in the coming decades as its population ages."

"The common link across many of the leading health problems is lifestyle," Bowers said. "By promoting better nutrition and physical activity, through food regulations and through designing healthy school and living environments, policymakers in Israel can proactively lengthen the years of healthy life."

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