Compression of morbidity

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The compression of morbidity in public health is a hypothesis put forth[1] by James Fries, professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. The hypothesis was supported by a 1998 study of 1700 University of Pennsylvania alumni over a period of 20 years.[2]

Fries' hypothesis is that the burden of lifetime illness may be compressed into a shorter period before the time of death, if the age of onset of the first chronic infirmity can be postponed.[3] This hypothesis contrasts to the view that as the age of countries' populations tends to increase over time, they will become increasingly infirm and consume an ever-larger proportion of the national budget in healthcare costs.[4]

Fries posited that if the hypothesis is confirmed, healthcare costs and patient health overall will be improved.[3] In order to confirm this hypothesis, the evidence must show that it is possible to delay the onset of infirmity, and that corresponding increases in longevity will at least be modest. The evidence is at best mixed. Vincent Mor's "The Compression of Morbidity Hypothesis: A Review of Research and Prospects for the Future" argues that "Cross-national evidence for the validity of the compression of morbidity hypothesis originally proposed by Fries is generally accepted. Generational improvements in education and the increased availability of adaptive technologies and even medical treatments that enhance quality of life have facilitated continued independence of older persons in the industrialized world. Whether this trend continues may depend upon the effect of the obesity epidemic on the next generation of older people."[5] See also "Mortality and Morbidity Trends: Is There Compression of Morbidity?" for recent evidence against the hypothesis.[6] There may also be age versus cohort effects.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fries, James F. (1980). "Aging, Natural Death, and the Compression of Morbidity" (PDF). New England Journal of Medicine. 303 (3): 130–5. doi:10.1056/NEJM198007173030304. PMC 2567746. PMID 7383070. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  2. ^ Vita, Anthony J.; Terry, Richard B.; Hubert, Helen B.; Fries, James F. (1998). "Aging, Health Risks, and Cumulative Disability". New England Journal of Medicine. 338 (15): 1035–41. doi:10.1056/NEJM199804093381506. PMID 9535669.
  3. ^ a b Swartz, Aimee (2008). "James Fries: Healthy Aging Pioneer". American Journal of Public Health. 98 (7): 1163–6. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.135731. PMC 2424092. PMID 18511711.
  4. ^ "The compression of morbidity was prophetic in the sense that Jim looked at the reduction of morbidity and disability at a time when most gerontologists and epidemiologists thought we would see a pandemic of disability." —Richard Suzman, quoted in Swartz 2008
  5. ^ Mor, Vincent (2005). "The Compression of Morbidity Hypothesis: A Review of Research and Prospects for the Future". Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 53 (9s): S308–S309. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2005.53496.x. PMID 16131359. S2CID 24003528.
  6. ^ Crimmins, Eileen M.; Beltrán-Sánchez, Hiram (2011-01-01). "Mortality and Morbidity Trends: Is There Compression of Morbidity?". The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. 66B (1): 75–86. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbq088. ISSN 1079-5014. PMC 3001754. PMID 21135070.
  7. ^

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