First-of-its-kind study shows two out of three Danes suffer from chronic conditions


The world's first mapping of an entire country's chronic diseases shows that approximately two out of three Danes over the age of 16 have one or more chronic conditions. This is nearly twice the previous estimates from Danish authorities.

The number of Danes suffering from one or more chronic conditions is much higher than previously assumed, according to Denmark's largest study on chronic disease to date - and the world's first mapping of an entire country's chronic diseases.

Until now, the Danish Health and Medicines Authority has officially estimated that approximately every third Dane suffers from a chronic condition. But according to the Aalborg University (AAU) study, this is an underestimate.

The study mapped the complete chronic disease burden and identified over 199 chronic conditions among all 4.5 million Danes over 16 years of age. This was done using the unique Danish health registers, and because these include all citizens, there is no statistical uncertainty.

Based on the new figures, men have an average of 2.0 conditions, while women have an average of 2.4. However, the differences are more pronounced by age, with those age 16-44, on average, having 1.1 chronic conditions, age 45-74 having 2.7, and those age 75 and older having 5.3. The figures obscure major differences; for example, the maximum number of diseases for one patient is 36.

These are the most prevalent conditions in the Danish population:

  • Hypertension: 23,3%
  • Respiratory allergy: 18,5%
  • Elevated cholesterol: 14,3%
  • Depression: 10,0%
  • Bronchitis: 9,2%
  • Asthma: 7.9%
  • Type 2 Diabetes: 5.3%
  • COPD: 4,7%
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee: 3,9%
  • Osteoporosis: 3,5%
  • Stomach ulcers: 3,5%

Socio-economic and personal burden of chronic disease

The study highlights that the burden of chronic disease is real and even greater than previously assumed. We see the need for accurate numbers and an overview of the chronic disease burden from both policymakers and health professionals in order to have a better basis for prioritization. Just like needing to know who and how many are coming for dinner, it is also essential that the healthcare system knows who and how many of patients will need treatment."

Michael Falk Hvidberg, PhD and researcher at the Danish Center for Healthcare Improvements (DCHI) at AAU

'The study provides a new complementary tool that can be used in prioritizing, planning, assessing financial burdens, and developing the healthcare system which should be able to cope with the increasing prevalence of chronic disease. The first step is precisely the overview the survey provides of who and how many suffer from chronic illness. Hopefully, the study can also help shine a light on and give voice to the patient groups typically overlooked in the debate,' he adds.

In a report, the Danish Health and Medicines Authority notes that 80 percent of the cost of healthcare goes to the treatment of chronic disease, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends international action.

'There is broad consensus and evidence that chronic diseases are the single biggest future challenge for our healthcare system. This study and our ongoing research and efforts in the area add important information that can have a major impact on future prioritisation and initiatives, says Lars Ehlers, Professor and Health Economist, DCHI, Aalborg University.


  • The study is funded by DCHI at Aalborg University, the North Denmark Region and Momsfonden - a Local Government Denmark foundation. In addition, the project is being done in conjunction with the National Institute of Public Health.
  • The study is the first part of a major research project on chronic diseases. The aim of the project is to provide an overview of the types of conditions and the extent of the chronic disease burden for policymakers, healthcare professionals and researchers for use in healthcare planning. Later this year, the second part of the study will examine quality of life for the 199 chronic conditions. The results thus create knowledge on both the extent (what and how many) and later quality of life (which chronic disease sufferers are doing the worst)
  • The results also mask several regional disparities. For example, the study shows that:

- The North Denmark Region has the largest proportion of patients with high blood pressure
- The Central Denmark Region has the largest proportion of patients with epilepsy, sleep disorders and ADHD
- The South Denmark Region has the largest proportion of patients with mental illness, dementia and the most chronic diseases in general
- Region Zealand has the largest proportion of patients with cancer, stomach ulcers and obesity
- The Capital Region has the largest proportion of patients with HIV, schizophrenia and eating disorders, but also the fewest chronic conditions compared to the rest of the country.

Aalborg University

Journal reference:

Hvidberg, M.F. et al. (2019) A Nationwide Study of Prevalence Rates and Characteristics of 199 Chronic Conditions in Denmark. PharmacoEconomics Open.

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