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.
Mental health disorders constitute a public health issue because they have an impact on the physical and social health of individuals and those around them. In 2018, around one in ten person had an anxiety disorder and/or a depressive disorder. While the consumption of sedatives (sleeping pills or tranquilizers) is decreasing since 2008, the consumption of antidepressants continues to increase. Most indicators showed a better situation in the Flemish region.
Suicide is an important problem for public health in Belgium. The mortality rate due to suicide is particularly high in Belgium compared to other EU-15 countries. It is 2.5 times higher in men than in women. Suicide is one of the main causes of death among young people in Belgium. Suicidal thoughts and attempts were more common in women, middle-aged people, and people in the lowest education group.
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 2017, 68,702 new diagnoses of cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) were made, including 36,977 new cases in men and 31,725 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 2017, 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 2018, 6.3% 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.