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 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.
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 2020, 68,782 new diagnoses of cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) were made, including 36,840 new cases in men and 31,942 new cases in women. Over the past ten years, the number of new cancer cases (or incidence) has increased for both men and women, driven in part by the aging of the population. After adjusting the incidence for age, it increased only in women. Age-adjusted incidence is highest in the Flemish Region. In 2020, the most common cancers in men were prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer, whereas the most common cancers in women were breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer.
In 2020, 6.6% 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 prevalence of diabetes is higher in the Walloon Region and the Brussels Capital region than in the Flemish Region, and is higher for individuals with a lower income.
In 2018, 12% of the adult population reported suffering from low back pain, 8% reported suffering from neck pain, and 15% reported suffering from osteoarthritis. Women were more affected by musculoskeletal disorders compared to men in the three regions. Between 2008 and 2018, the percentage of adults suffering from a musculoskeletal disorder increased in the Flemish and Walloon Region, for both genders.