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Health Status in Europe

People in the European Union are living longer and in general enjoying better health than ever before[1]. Life expectancy in Western Europe has increased consistently since the 1950s by around 2.5 years each decade. Life expectancy in EU-25 varies from 66-78 years for men and 76-84 years for women. The difference between EU countries is wider for healthy-life expectancy than for life expectancy. Healthy-life expectancy ranges from 57-75 years for women and from 54-71 years for men[2].

Most predictions assume that this improvement in health will continue. However, lifestyle-related diseases are increasing the risk of life expectancy levelling off. Risk factors such as smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity, high consumption of alcohol, injuries and accidents cause premature death and chronic disease. There is a clear connection between diet, lifestyle and health[3]. Non-communicable diseases contribute to over 87% of the EU's total disease burden[4]. Mental health disorders account for 27% of these. In 1999, mental disorders were responsible for more than 40% of disability pensions in Finland and 25% in Portugal. Cardiovascular diseases are currently the biggest single cause of death in the EU[5]. They account for around 40% of deaths in both sexes. It is also a major cause of ill health in Europe. Obesity and type-2 diabetes are showing worrying trends, not only because they are affecting a larger population, but also because they have started to appear earlier in life. In the European Union, in 2000, a total of 158 million days work was lost, corresponding to an average of 20 days for every accident[6]. In addition, communicable diseases and pandemics can spread more rapidly than ever across national borders because of high mobility.

Fortunately, the leading causes of premature death are largely preventable, as their main risk factors are behavioural and can be influenced by effective use of well-known and feasible public health interventions. But, most risks cluster themselves around the poor[7].

The above snapshot, explained in more detail in the full publication, shows a Europe full of contrasts. We can observe remarkable improvements in public health over previous decades, significantly improving the life quality of large groups of the population. There are still, however, large differences between and within countries. The potential gains remaining for an efficient public health policy are substantial.

[1] Key data on health, Eurostat 2005

[2] Kjaesrud and Siddel, European Commission 2006

[3]Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases” – Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. 2003

[4] Statistics in focus – Population and social conditions Theme 3 – 2/2004

[5] Statistics in focus – Population and social conditions Theme 3- 2/2004

[6] Communication from the Commission Improving quality in work: a review of recent progress COM (2003) 26.11.2003 728 final

[7] The World Health Report2002 – Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy life World, Health Organization