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Health at a Glance: Europe 2018

Many lives could be saved by redoubling efforts to prevent unhealthy lifestyles. Some 790 000 EU citizens die prematurely each year from tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption (70.212 people), unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity. Policies to control tobacco and harmful consumption of alcohol or to halt obesity therefore need to be actively pursued.

The OECD, together with the European Commission, launched its publication “Health at a Glance: Europe 2018”. The report provides a set of key indicators of health status , risk factors to health, health expenditure, access to care and quality of care, together with a discussion of progress in improving the effectiveness, accessibility and resilience of European health systems, in 36 European countries (28 EU Member States, 5 candidate countries and 3 EFTA countries), and calls for improving mental health and preventing mental illness that not only have social consequences but are also estimated to cost more than 4% of GDP across the EU. It also calls for addressing risk factors like smoking, alcohol and obesity, reducing premature mortality, ensuring universal access to care and strengthening the resilience of health systems.

Life expectancy has increased in EU countries over the past decades, but this rise has slowed down since 2010 in many countries, particularly in Western Europe. Life expectancy at birth reached 81 years across the 28 EU Member States in 2016. Spain and Italy have the highest life expectancy among EU countries, with life expectancy reaching over 83 years in 2016. Life expectancy at birth now exceeds 80 years in two-thirds of EU countries, but still remains at only around 75 years in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania.

People with a low level of education can expect to live six years less than those with a high level of education. There are still large disparities in life expectancy persist not only by gender, but also by socioeconomic status. On average across the EU, 30-year-old men with a low level of education can expect to live about 8 years less than those with a university degree (or the equivalent), while the ‘education gap’ among women is narrower, at about 4 years. These gaps largely reflect differences in exposure to risk factors, but also indicate disparities in access to care.

Alcohol control policies have achieved progress in reducing overall alcohol consumption in several countries, with overall consumption dropping by over 10% over the past decade, but heavy alcohol consumption remains an issue among adolescents and adults remains an important public health issue. In EU countries, nearly 40% of adolescents report at least one ‘binge drinking’ event in the preceding month, and more than 40% of young men aged 20-29 also report heavy episodic drinking.

Measured through sales data, overall alcohol consumption stood at 9.8 litres of pure alcohol per adult on average across EU Member States in 2016, down from 11 litres in 2006 (Figure 4.7). Lithuania reported the highest consumption of alcohol, with 13.2 litres per adult, followed by France, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Austria, Luxembourg, Ireland, and Latvia with more than 11 litres per adult. At the other end of the scale, Greece, Italy and Sweden have relatively low levels of consumption, below 8 litres of pure alcohol per adult.

“Health at a Glance: Europe 2018” marks the launch of the second cycle of the Commission’s State of Health in the EU initiative. The next step in this State of Health in the EU cycle of knowledge brokering is the publication of Country Health Profiles for all EU countries, which will be published in 2019 jointly with the OECD and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies. They will highlight the particular characteristics of and challenges for each Member State, and will be presented alongside a Companion Report in which the Commission draws cross-cutting conclusions.

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