Review of disability weight studies: comparison of methodological choices and values

Juanita Haagsma, Suzanne Polinder, A Cassini, E Colzani, AH Havelaar

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58 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: The disability-adjusted life year (DALY) is widely used to assess the burden of different health problems and risk factors. The disability weight, a value anchored between 0 (perfect health) and 1 (equivalent to death), is necessary to estimate the disability component (years lived with disability, YLDs) of the DALY. After publication of the ground-breaking Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 1996, alternative sets of disability weights have been developed over the past 16 years, each using different approaches with regards to the panel, health state description, and valuation methods. The objective of this study was to review all studies that developed disability weights and to critically assess the methodological design choices (health state and time description, panel composition, and valuation method). Furthermore, disability weights of eight specific conditions were compared. Methods: Disability weights studies (1990-2012) in international peer-reviewed journals and grey literature were identified with main inclusion criteria being that the study assessed DALY disability weights for several conditions or a specific group of illnesses. Studies were collated by design and methods and evaluation of results. Results: Twenty-two studies met the inclusion criteria of our review. There is considerable variation in methods used to derive disability weights, although most studies used a disease-specific description of the health state, a panel that consisted of medical experts, and nonpreference-based valuation method to assess the values for the majority of the disability weights. Comparisons of disability weights across 15 specific disease and injury groups showed that the subdivision of a disease into separate health states (stages) differed markedly across studies. Additionally, weights for similar health states differed, particularly in the case of mild diseases, for which the disability weight differed by a factor of two or more. Conclusions: In terms of comparability of the resulting YLDs, the global use of the same set of disability weights has advantages, though practical constraints and intercultural differences should be taken into account into such a set.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalPopulation Health Metrics
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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