Harmonising summary measures of population health using global survey instruments

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Abstract

Summary measures of population health—health expectancies in particular—have become a standard for quantifying and monitoring population health. To date, cross-national comparability of health expectancies is limited, except within the European Union (EU). To advance international comparability, the European Joint Action on Healthy Life Years (JA: EHLEIS) set up an international working group. The working group discussed the conceptual basis of summary measures of population health and made suggestions for the development of comparable health expectancies to be used across the EU and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members. In this paper, which summarises the main results, we argue that harmonised health data needed for health expectancy calculation can best be obtained from ‘global’ survey measures, which provide a snapshot of the health situation using 1 or a few survey questions. We claim that 2 global measures of health should be pursued for their high policy relevance: a global measure of participation restriction and a global measure of functional limitation. We finally provide a blueprint for the future development and implementation of the 2 global measures. The blueprint sets the basis for subsequent international collaboration, having as a core group Member States of the EU, the USA and Japan. Other countries, in particular OECD members, are invited to join the initiative.

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