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19th Oct 2019

European health improvements unequal, WHO says

  • Around 15 percent of the population in Europe's 53 countries is over 65, says the World Health Organisation. (Photo: TheeErin)

Europeans are living longer but health inequalities between men and women, countries and population segments are in some cases getting worse.

The conclusions were made by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its European health report 2012 published on Tuesday (13 March).

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“There are persistent and widespread inequities in health across the region, which in some cases are worsening,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, in a statement.

The report spans 53 countries and includes around 900 million people.

The decrease in certain causes of death and efforts to address risk factors and socioeconomic conditions has boosted life expectancy by five years on average over the last 30 years for both sexes combined.

As people live longer, the number of those over 65 is estimated to reach a quarter of the entire population by 2050. Today, it is 15 percent.

Women in 2010 lived on average to around 80 while men averaged 72.5 years, though ageing women tend to spend shorter periods of time in good health.

“In terms of trends in Europe, men are today where women were 40 years ago,” notes the report.

The gender age life expectancy gap increases in eastern European countries where women tend to live up to 12 years longer than men.

The report says the larger difference in eastern Europe is mostly down to life style choices, noting the abuse of alcohol and tobacco as contributing factors that cut short life expectancies.

The worst affected are Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

The least affected are Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, where the in-country life expectancy gap between the sexes is less than four years.

People in Spain have Europe’s longest life expectancy, followed by France, Italy and Switzerland.

Greeks tend to live longer than the Danes, the Brits, and the Belgians while people in Kyrgzstan and Moldova rank at the bottom.

The lowest life expectancy rates in the EU-27 are found in Bulgaria and Romania.

Leading cause of death

Cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are responsible for 80 percent of deaths in Europe, with tobacco and alcohol abuse as leading health risk factors.

People under 65 who die are most likely to succumb to heart disease or strokes, followed by cancer.

However, cancer has replaced cardiovascular diseases as the leading cause of premature death in 28 countries.

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