Objectives: This paper analyzes the impact of seven chronic conditions (three nonfatal: arthritis, visual impairment, hearing impairment; four fatal: ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, malignant neoplasms) on US adults aged 18 and older. Impact refers to how readily a condition prompts activity limitations, physician visits, and hospital stays.
Methods: Data come from three national health surveys and vital statistics. For comparability, a single disease classification scheme was applied, and new rates were estimated. Frequency, impact, and prominence of the target conditions are studied via rates, ratios of rates, and ranks, respectively.
Results: In young adulthood, the nonfatal conditions prompt limitations less readily than do the fatal ones, but by older ages, arthritis and visual impairment have a limiting impact equivalent to that of fatal conditions. Despite high prevalence and limitations, nonfatal conditions stand well below fatal conditions for health services use.
Conclusions: Although statistics on frequency, impact, and prominence all indicate conditions "importance," they give only weak clues about specific service needs of affected persons. The persistent finding that nonfatal conditions do not receive health services care commensurate with their prevalence and impact reflects long-standing imbalanced attention on fatal conditions in research and medical care.