Nov. 5, 2021 --During the pandemic year of 2020, life expectancy dropped and more than 28 million extra years of life were lost in 31 countries – with men hit much harder than women, a new analysis shows.
Excess years of life lost in 2020 were more than five times higher than years of life lost due to seasonal influenza in 2015, the researchers write.
The study was published online November 3 in The BMJ.
Nazrul Islam, , PhD, with the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues estimated changes in life expectancy and excess years of life lost (YLL) in 2020 associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 37 upper-middle and high-income countries or regions with reliable and complete mortality data.
In all 37 countries, life expectancy at birth increased in men and women between 2005 and 2019.
But in 2020, life expectancy declined in both men and women in 31 countries studied. The exceptions were New Zealand, Taiwan, and Norway, where a gain in life expectancy was noted, and Denmark, Iceland, and South Korea, were no change in life expectancy was observed.
The biggest pandemic drop in life expectancy (in years) happened in Russia (−2.33 in men and −2.14 in women), the United States (−2.27 in men and −1.61 in women), Bulgaria (−1.96 and −1.37), Lithuania (−1.83 and −1.21), Chile (−1.64 in men) and Spain (−1.11 in women).
YLL in 2020 topped expectations in all countries expect Taiwan, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and South Korea.
In the remaining 31 countries, more than 222 million YLL were lost in 2020, which is 28.1 million more than expected (17.3 million in men and 10.8 million in women), they report.
The most YLL (per 100,000) happened in Bulgaria (7260 in men and 3730 in women), Russia (7020 in men and 4760 in women), Lithuania (5430 in men and 2640 in women), the US (4350 in men and 2430 in women), Poland (3830 in men and 1830 in women), and Hungary (2770 in men and 1920 in women).
Excess YLL were relatively low in people younger than 65 years, except in Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and the U.S. where the excess years of life lost was more than 2000 per 100,000.
Resiliency of Health Systems
The researchers say comparable or lower than expected YLL in Taiwan, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and South Korea “underscore the importance of successful viral suppression and elimination policies, including targeted and population based public health policy interventions.”
“A comprehensive pandemic preparedness aimed at more resilient health systems could be key to tackling the impact of future pandemics,” they write.
Due to a lack of mortality data, the analyses did not include most countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the authors said. They were also unable account for some “critically important” factors such as socioeconomic status and race or ethnicity.
They also were not able determine whether these excess deaths were directly caused by the coronavirus or were related to other causes of deaths.
Given that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, future studies are needed to estimate the long-term burden of the pandemic, including direct and indirect effects, the researchers say.