Hypertension, arthrosis, diabetes, and osteoporosis. These are some of the main chronic diseases that afflict millions of Italians. In 2016, four out of ten individuals reported suffering from at least one of these most common chronic diseases, a percentage that increased slightly compared to 2015. Women and older segments of the population are most affected where the impact of these diseases is the greatest according to some of the data from the 2017 Istat Annual Report. Among the aspects highlighted by the researchers there is in fact one dedicated to the health of Italians. We discuss the topic with Dr. Elena Azzolini, Assistant Doctor of the Health Department of Humanitas.
Ageing and chronic pain
The presence of one or more chronic pathologies is a factor that guides the assessment of one’s state of health by number of Italians. In older age groups, where the proportion of chronic pathologies is more significant, fewer individuals make a positive assessment of their condition. On the other hand, an inverse trend applies to the lower age groups. In general, 70.1% of the population living in Italy gave a positive answer to the question “How is your health in general? In men the percentage rises slightly to 74%, while in women it falls to 66.4%.
These percentages differ according to age. Between the ages of 65 and 74, just over 42% look positively at their overall health, while people above the age of 75 reach 24% of the resident population. Chronic diseases are very common among people over 75 years of age (85% reported to suffer from a chronic illness). What are the main diseases? The most common disease is hypertension (17.4%), followed by osteoarticular disorders, namely arthritis and arthrosis (15.9%), followed by allergic diseases, osteoporosis, chronic bronchitis and bronchial asthma and diabetes.
Between the two genders, after the age of 55, women emerge as most affected by chronic diseases, while after the age of 45 the judgment on their well-being begins to differ from the male one: if 73.7% of men considered to be in good health, 69.1% of women of the same age group believe the same.
Compared to previous surveys, it has emerged that Italians’ health has worsened (+0.8% people with chronic pathologies compared to 2015). The same upward trend has also been registered among those who have claimed to suffer from two or more of these diseases.
Although prevention and diagnostic-therapeutic advances can slow the onset or improve the course of many diseases, the proportion of people with all major chronic diseases is invariably increasing,” says Dr. Azzolini. “On average, Italians lose ten years of healthy life mainly due to chronic illnesses. Cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of disability among others, although the percentage of cardiovascular diseases has slightly reduced. On the other hand, the weight of musculoskeletal disorders and neurological disorders increases and neoplastic diseases and diabetes continue to increase”.
“The increase, in percentage or absolute terms, of the number of elderly and disabled people does not present an alarm, but it becomes an issue if this epidemiological and demographic ‘transition’ (and in the health needs of citizens) is not followed by adequate policies and socio-health interventions, and investments in the field of non self-sufficiency and social contexts”.
Lifestyle and prevention
Researchers have considered not just health but also the main lifestyles. The Istat report shows that residents in Italy turn out to be conservative at their table. Eating outside the house is still not very common: lunch remains the main meal and in seven out of ten cases it is consumed at home. However, this custom allows people to make more careful dietary choices.
The habit to have breakfast in the early morning is supported by 81% of the population that drinks coffee after waking up but also consumes food with an adequate nutritional intake, from milk to biscuits. Women and children are more faithful breakfast consumers.
From a good to a bad habit: addiction to cigarette smoking. One of the main risk factors for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in almost 20% of the population, remaining unchanged compared to 2015. The habit of smoking is confirmed to be more widespread among men and young people: men who smoke are concentrated mainly between twenty-five and thirty-four years of age.
More than 66% of deaths are due to cardiovascular disease and cancer: two diseases, which can be prevented by healthy lifestyles as long as possible. What advice would you give the general public on this? “The rapid spread of chronic diseases is accelerated by the effects of increasingly negative lifestyles. Many chronic diseases, which are the main cause of death and almost 60% of the total cost of treatment in industrialized countries, can be effectively prevented by counteracting behavioral risk factors,” says Dr. Azzolini. “In fact, 86% of chronic diseases could be prevented by controlling only four modifiable risk factors: first and foremost tobacco smoking, poor nutrition (and thus obesity), physical inactivity and alcohol abuse”.
“Therefore, quitting cigarette smoking, healthy nutrition, regular physical activity and the reduction of alcohol consumption are essential rules for a long and healthy life, helping to reduce and/or maintain blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glycaemia and the Body Mass Index at favorable levels. In this regard, an essential role is played by the family members, who have a central point in the growth of children and young people, where healthy lifestyles can be transmitted through a correct diet and encouraging physical and sport activity or, on the contrary, it can be a negative role where the “spiral” of being overweight and obesity can begin,” concludes the specialist.