Burden of Disease: How COVID-19 has Affected Life Expectancy

In countries like UK, USA and Italy which are badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the life expectancy has reduced by at least 1.2-1.3 years.

Diseases and risk factors lead to premature deaths and disabilities and result in ‘burden’ on the people and the society. This limits people living long life in full health. There are several dimensions of the disease burden such as economic and financial, pain and human suffering or loss of time in full health for the individuals. As a quantitative concept, the burden due to a particular disease can be estimated in terms of DALY (Disability Adjusted Life Years) which is defined as sum of years of life lost (YLL) due to premature deaths and years of life lived with disability (YLD) in the population under consideration.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to very significant burden on the people and the society worldwide. The burden due to COVID-19 has several dimensions but here, we are referring to ‘’loss of healthy years of life’’ as measured in terms of DALY and its associated measures especially effects on life expectancy at birth in different countries.  

In England and Wales, there were 57 419 excess COVID-19 related deaths in the first 47 weeks of 2020. 55% of the victims were men. Increased age and being men were associated with higher risk of death. Life expectancy reduced by 1.2 years for men and 0.9 years for women from 2019 baseline1. Older people living in care homes in the UK have higher mortality than older people living in the general population. A study conducted on care home residents in Scotland found that the life expectancy fell by about six months during the pandemic 2.  

United States is among the worst affected countries. It is estimated that the US life expectancy in 2020 will reduce by 1.13 years due to COVID-19. The reduction in life expectancy for the Black and Latino ethnic groups will be 3-4 times higher. This trend is likely to continue in 2021. As a result, the gap in life expectancies between White and Black population will widen 3. According to a rough estimate, years of life lost (YLLs) due to COVID-19 deaths in the USA is about 1.2 million implying about 1.2 million people would have lived for another one year in absence of the pandemic.  

In Italy, as on 28 April 2020, total years of life lost (YLLs) due premature deaths attributed to COVID-19 was 81,718 (in males) and 39,096 (in females) which along with YLLD amounted to 2.01 DALYs per 1000 population. The burden was highest among 80-89 years age group 5.  

The above estimates of the disease burden due to COVID-19 is limited due to the fact that the disease is still ongoing and available data is limited in almost all settings. In due course, the GBD estimate attributable to COVID-19 would be quantified to give clearer picture. However, in countries like UK, USA and Italy which are badly hit by the pandemic, the life expectancy has reduced by at least 1.2-1.3 years. It may take decades in future before this gap is bridged.   



  1. Aburto JM, Kashyap R, Schöley J, et al. Estimating the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic on mortality, life expectancy and lifespan inequality in England and Wales: a population-level analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 19 January 2021. DOI:  
  1. Burton JK., Reid M., et al., 2021. Impact of COVID-19 on Care-Home Mortality and Life Expectancy in Scotland. Preprint medRxiv. Published 15 January 2021. DOI:  
  1. Andrasfay T., and Goldman N., 2021. Reductions in 2020 US life expectancy due to COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact on the Black and Latino populations. PNAS February 2, 2021 118 (5) e2014746118. DOI:  
  1. Quast T., Andel R., et al 2020. Years of life lost associated with COVID-19 deaths in the United States, Journal of Public Health, Volume 42, Issue 4, December 2020, Pages 717–722, DOI:  
  1. Nurchis MC., Pascucci D., et al 2020. Impact of the Burden of COVID-19 in Italy: Results of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) and Productivity Loss. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(12), 4233. DOI:   


Umesh Prasad
Umesh Prasad
Science journalist | Founder editor, Scientific European magazine

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