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The average life expectancy for men and women around the world has risen by about six years over the past two decades, according to the findings of one of the most comprehensive studies of global health ever conducted.

The increase is mainly due to advances in health care, with longer life spans in richer countries largely attributed to a drop in deaths related to heart disease, and poorer countries experiencing declines in the death of children from ailments such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Yet, while global deaths from infectious diseases dropped by about 25 percent during the period under review, the number of deaths linked to non-communicable diseases increased by about 40 percent.

Non-communicable diseases, often related to diet and lifestyle and including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, tend to be chronic and debilitating and are often more expensive to treat.

lead author of the study and Christopher Murray who is also the director of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which oversaw the analysis  described the findings as a very profound shift, adding that it will affect how countries deal with the future health of their populations.

The research was part of the Global Burden of Disease Study conducted by an international team of more than 700 researchers led by IHME and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study, which was published last week in the journal Lancet, analyzed annual deaths from 240 different causes in 188 countries from 1990 to 2013.
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