Compression of morbidity

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The compression of morbidity in public health is a hypothesis put forth[1] by James Fries, professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. The hypothesis was confirmed by a 1998 study of 1700 University of Pennsylvania alumni over a period of 20 years.[2]

Fries' hypothesis is that the burden of lifetime illness may be compressed into a shorter period before the time of death, if the age of onset of the first chronic infirmity can be postponed.[3] This hypothesis contrasts to the view that as the age of countries' populations tends to increase over time, they will become increasingly infirm and consume an ever-larger proportion of the national budget in healthcare costs.[4]

In order to confirm this hypothesis, the evidence must show that it is possible to delay the onset of infirmity, and that corresponding increases in longevity will be modest.[citation needed]

Fries concludes that if the hypothesis is confirmed, healthcare costs and patient health overall will be improved.[3]


  1. Fries, James F. (1980). "Aging, Natural Death, and the Compression of Morbidity" (PDF). New England Journal of Medicine. 303 (3): 130–5. doi:10.1056/NEJM198007173030304. PMID 7383070.
  2. Vita, Anthony J.; Terry, Richard B.; Hubert, Helen B.; Fries, James F. (1998). "Aging, Health Risks, and Cumulative Disability". New England Journal of Medicine. 338 (15): 1035–41. doi:10.1056/NEJM199804093381506. PMID 9535669.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Swartz, Aimee (2008). "James Fries: Healthy Aging Pioneer". American Journal of Public Health. 98 (7): 1163–6. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.135731. PMC 2424092. PMID 18511711.
  4. "The compression of morbidity was prophetic in the sense that Jim looked at the reduction of morbidity and disability at a time when most gerontologists and epidemiologists thought we would see a pandemic of disability." —Richard Suzman, quoted in Swartz 2008

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