Reflection on modern methods: years of life lost due to premature mortality-a versatile and comprehensive measure for monitoring non-communicable disease mortality

Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Aug 1;48(4):1367-1376. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyy254.


The analysis of causes impacting on premature mortality is an essential function of public health surveillance. Diverse methods have been used for accurately assessing and reporting the level and trends of premature mortality; however, many have important limitations, particularly in capturing actual early deaths. We argue that the framework of years of life lost (YLL), as conceptualized in disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs), is a robust and comprehensive measure of premature mortality. Global Burden of Disease study is systematically providing estimates of YLL; however, it is not widely adopted at country level, among other reasons because its conceptual and methodological bases seem to be not sufficiently known and understood. In this paper, we provide the concepts and the methodology of the YLL framework, including the selection of the loss of function that defines the time lost due to premature deaths, and detailed methods for calculating YLL metrics. We also illustrate how to use YLL to quantify the level and trends of premature non-communicable disease (NCD) mortality in the Americas. The tutorial style of the illustrative example is intended to educate the public health community and stimulate the use of YLL in disease prevention and control programmes at different levels.

Keywords: Mortality; epidemiological method; non-communicable diseases; premature; public health surveillance.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disabled Persons
  • Female
  • Global Burden of Disease / statistics & numerical data*
  • Global Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Transition*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Life Expectancy / trends*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality, Premature / trends*
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / mortality*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult