Global crisis as over-60s set to outnumber children

Latest figures by the WHO show that by 2050 the world's population aged 60 and over is expected to hit two billion. Picture: JP

Latest figures by the WHO show that by 2050 the world's population aged 60 and over is expected to hit two billion. Picture: JP

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MEDICAL experts are warning of a “major global public health challenge” as the number of people aged 60 or older will overtake the number of children aged five or younger for the first time in 2020.

Latest figures by the World Health Organisation (WHO) also show that by 2050, the world’s population aged 60 and over is expected to hit two billion, up from the current figure of 841 million.

A new series of studies in The Lancet medical journal found the increase in longevity, especially in high-income countries (HICs), has been largely due to the decline in deaths from cardiovascular disease.

This has been largely attributed to simple, cost-effective strategies to reduce tobacco use and high blood pressure, and improved coverage and effectiveness of health interventions.

However, although people are living longer, they are not necessarily healthier than before – nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of the overall global burden of death and illness is in people aged over 60, and much of this is attributable to long-term illness caused by diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disease, musculoskeletal diseases (such as arthritis and osteoporosis), and mental and neurological disorders.

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Doctors say the long-term burden of illness and diminished wellbeing affects patients, their families, health systems and economies, and is forecast to accelerate.

Latest estimates from the WHO indicate that the number of people with dementia is expected to rise from 44 million now, to 135 million by 2050.

Dr John Beard, director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course at the WHO, said: “Deep and fundamental reforms of health and social care systems will be required.

“But we must be careful that these reforms do not reinforce the inequities that drive much of the poor health and functional limitation we see in older age.”

Meanwhile, the influential Richmond Group, a coalition of ten leading health and social care organisations, has said the UK will fail to meet international commitments on reducing deaths from preventable diseases without a national plan for health improvement led by Prime Minister David Cameron.

The WHO has set a global target of reducing preventable deaths by 25 per cent by 2025.

The call was made in a new report What is preventing progress? which makes clear that if the WHO goal is to be achieved, local and national government, the NHS, public services, the private sector, charities and patients must all work together to put prevention first.

Chris Askew, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Preventable ill-health costs the NHS and costs the economy, but more importantly means avoidable suffering.

“We know that many diseases – including breast cancer – have common lifestyle risk factors, and simple but effective measures can help individuals take control of their risk and manage existing conditions.”

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