BACKGROUND: In a context of decreasing resources and growing health needs, evidence-based health and care policies are essential. This study aims to assess the health trends in Belgium between 1990 and 2019, to compare the Belgian health status to that of the EU-15 countries, and to identify the main drivers in trends over time and country differences within the EU-15.
METHODS: We extracted estimates from the GBD 2019 study via the GBD results tool and visualization tools. We compared the Belgian health status with 14 European Union comparator countries between 1990 and 2019, and decomposed the time trends and country differences into the unique contributions of the different underlying causes of death and disability.
RESULTS: Life expectancy (LE) in Belgium improved significantly between 1990 and 2019 for both men and women. Belgium age-standardised mortality rates dropped significantly for men (-40%) and women (-33%) between 1990 and 2019. Overall, Belgium age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates dropped by 23%. This decrease is mainly due to decreasing trends in age-standardised years of life lost (YLL) rates while age-standardised years lived with disability (YLD) rates remained stable. Compared to EU-15, Belgium's ranking in terms of age-standardised DALY rates worsened for both men and women in 2019. Self-harm and falls are major causes of disease burden, with DALY rates that are higher than in many other EU-15 countries, indicating a realistic potential for improvement. Lung cancer DALY rates remain worrisome for men, and even show an increasing trend for women. Increasing trends of headache disorders, drug use disorders, and diabetes, require further attention.
CONCLUSION: Non-communicable diseases remain the main contributors for health burden in Belgium, with disability accounting for an increasingly larger share of the disease burden. Despite considerable improvements, Belgium's ranking for DALYs decreased between 1990 and 2019 compared to the EU-15. This study identified priority causes of disease burden based on their contributions to current evolutions and EU-15 differences. Since many of these causes are considered to be avoidable, primary and secondary prevention are crucial elements for reducing the burden of disease on the healthcare system.