Understanding disability : The first step in prevention

Updated: Aug 8

The risk of death from a particular disease does not give a complete picture. The overall toll of a disease is sometimes best assessed by disability adjusted life years (also called DALY).

DALY is a measure of years of healthy life lost due to disability.

Having a major disability can significantly compromise quality of life.

Quality of life is determined by the following (as determined by the European Commission):

Material living condition

Productivity or main activity



Leisure and social interactions

Economic and physical security

Governance and basic rights

Natural and living environment

Overall experience of life

Having poorer health can affect productivity, income, leisurely activities, economic security, living environment, to name a few. Take the example of the 50-year-old who suffers from a heart attack, survives it to live with disabling heart failure. He can carry on basic activities of daily living, but due to need for frequent hospitalization and doctor’s visit, cannot maintain a full-time job. Worse still, he used to enjoy biking and golfing, now impossible due to shortness of breath. This not only affects him but his family as well.

One in four adults in United States have some type of disability.

Here is some additional statistics for you to help you understand this better. Some show favorable trends, others not so much.

1) 👍 There has been a steady decline in disability adjusted life years (DALY) in USA from 1995-2005. This is mostly due to improvement in public health measures.

2) 👍 Most of the decline was from decrease in premature death.

3) 👎 Years lived with disability has remained the same. This is where a lot of work needs to be done.

4) Heart disease (#1) and cancer (#2) remained leading causes of death (even in 2020), with COVID coming at #3.

5) Leading causes of disability adjusted life years in United States in 2015 was: mental health disease and drug/substance abuse (#1), cancer (#2), heart disease (#3).

6) For men, biggest burden is from heart diseases and for women it is due to mental health diseases.

From the above statistic, we can conclude that we not only need to focus on our physical health, but mental health as well. Physical and mental health are often interrelated.

Please read my other articles to understand the role of lifestyle in preventing disease and disability.



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