More than one in four Belgians report living with at least one chronic disease, and the likelihood of reporting these conditions strongly increases with age. The prevalence of chronic disease is generally higher among individuals with a lower educational level.
The six most commonly reported chronic diseases in the population are low back disorders, high blood pressure, allergy, arthrosis, high blood cholesterol, and neck disorders. The prevalence of the most frequent chronic diseases has increased between 1997 and 2018, mainly because of the ageing of the population. However, some chronic diseases have increased over time even after correction for age, namely thyroid disorders, diabetes, and allergies.
Many indicators of mental health and emotional well-being point to a worsening of these conditions in the Belgian population. The percentage of people with depressive feelings, anxiety disorders, and/or severe sleep problems has lately shown a strong increase, especially among women in the 15-24 age group. Furthermore, more people report that they have (had) suicidal thoughts or are using antidepressants. Emotional disorders, suicidal behaviours and use of psychotropic medicines are generally less frequent in the Flemish Region than in the other two regions of the country, and more frequent in the lowest educated groups compared with the higher educated.
In addition to self-reported information from the Belgian Health Interview Survey, objective information on specific chronic diseases is available from registers and administrative databases. Currently, objective information from such sources is available for cancer and diabetes.
In 2016, 68,216 new diagnoses of cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) were made, including 36,243 new cases in men and 31,973 new cases in women. Over the past ten years, the number of new cancer diagnoses have increased for both men and women, partly due to the ageing of the population. After correction for age, incidence rates increased only in women. Age-standardized incidence rates are highest in the Walloon Region. In 2016, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer in men, and breast, colorectal and lung cancer in women were the most frequently diagnosed cancers. Over the past 10 years, the incidence of lung cancer has gone up with almost 50% in women.
In 2016, 6.4% of the Belgian population had diabetes. Diabetes prevalence is increasing over time as a result of both the ageing of the population and a true increase in the risk of developing diabetes. The risk of developing diabetes is higher in Wallonia and Brussels than in Flanders, and is higher for individuals with a lower income.