Introduction. No information is available in Belgium on life expectancy adjusted for health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Quality-adjusted life expectancy (QALE) captures the multidimensionality of health by accounting for losses in mortality and HRQoL linked to physical, mental, and social impairments. The objective of this study is to estimate for Belgium QALE, the changes in QALE between 2013 and 2018 and the contribution of mortality, HRQoL and its dimensions to this trend.
Methods. The Belgian Health Interview Survey (BHIS), a representative sample of the general population, included the EQ-5D-5L instrument in 2013 and 2018. The tool assesses HRQoL comprising five dimensions (mobility, self-care, usual activities, pain/discomfort, anxiety/depression) using a 5-level severity scoring to define a large variety of health states. The Sullivan method was used to compute at different ages QALE by gender using mortality data from the Belgian statistical office and average EQ-5D scores from the BHIS. QALE was calculated for 2013 and 2018, and changes in QALE over time were decomposed into mortality and ill-health effect.
Results. In 2018, QALE at age 15 years (QALE15) was 56.3 years for women and 55.8 years for men, a decrease from 2013 by 0.7 year for women and a stagnation for men. In men, the decrease in mortality counterbalanced the decline in HRQoL. The decline in QALE in women is driven by a decrease in mortality rates that is too small to compensate for the substantial decline in HRQoL before the age of 50 years. In women at older ages, improvements in HRQoL are observed. In women, QALE15 is decreasing due to an increase in pain/discomfort, anxiety/depression and problems in usual activities. In men at age 15, the pain/discomfort and anxiety/depression domains contributed to the stagnation. QALE65 increased somewhat, due to an improvement in self-care and mobility for both genders, and usual activities and anxiety/depression in men only.
Conclusion. The strength of QALE as member of the family of composite indicators, the health expectancies, is the multidimensional structure of the underlying health component, including both ill-health with different health domains as levels of severity. The ability to decompose differences in the health expectancy not only into a mortality and health component but also into the different health dimensions allows to better inform on general population health trends. Next, compared to other health expectancy indicators, QALE is more sensitive to changes at younger ages.