Downturn threatens Europe's life expectancy gains, WHO says

by Katy Lee

Gains in life expectancy across Europe could be reversed if cash-strapped governments cut health budgets, the World Health Organisation warned in a report on Wednesday.

The WHO's European Health Report 2012 said that while are living longer, healthier lives—with the average person now living until they are 76—the improvements could backslide if states slash investment in health as a result of the .

"A scenario threatening the European regions overall sustained gains in life expectancy may occur if economic or social crises are coupled with reductions in spending on health and other services," the report by the UN's said.

The report, issued every three years by the WHO, also warned that while Europe as a whole has enjoyed a health boost in recent years, the progress varies sharply across the region.

Spain has the highest life expectancy in the region at 82.2 years while Kazakhstan has the lowest at 68.7 years, according to the report.

The 53 countries covered by the WHO's Europe region include Israel and as well as the rich countries of and their poorer Eastern European neighbours.

"A major success for the European region is that life expectancy at birth has increased by five years since 1980, reaching 76 years in 2010," the report's editor Ritu Sadana told a press conference in London on Tuesday ahead of the publication.

"The downside is that the benefit is not equally shared across countries."

The region contains nine of the 10 countries with the highest life expectancy in the world, according to the WHO—despite the fact that the continent also has the highest rates of drinking and smoking.

The WHO said the rise in life expectancy across the region's 900 million people is largely down to the decline of certain illnesses including , as well as improving living standards.

varies hugely across the region, with France and the Netherlands spending 11.9 percent of GDP on health in 2010, and Turkmenistan spending only 2.5 percent, the WHO said.

The study also noted that female life expectancy far outstrips that for European men—with the region's women living 80 years on average, compared to 72.5 years for the average man.

"Men are lagging behind women in by an entire generation," Sadana said. "In 2010 men had not yet reached the average women enjoyed in 1980."

The WHO said the gap could be largely explained by "lifestyle and occupational differences", such as the fact that European men smoke twice as much as women.

The study also noted that while suicide rates have decreased by between 24 and 40 percent in European countries since the mid-1990s, the rate of decline has slowed since 2008—coinciding with the economic downturn.

More than a quarter of the European population will be aged over 65 by 2050, the WHO said, warning that this will create challenges for the continent's health services.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

European women live longer than men, but not better

Aug 29, 2011

European women live longer than men, because of both biological and behavioural advantages, but women's longer lives are not necessarily healthy lives. Studies commented on by Dr Vannuzzo at the ESC Congress 2011, show that ...

Life expectancy success story

Aug 26, 2011

Life expectancy is increasing all the time due to better quality of life and better health care. Despite this, increases in life expectancy can be patchy, with some sources reporting that the gap in life expectancy between ...

Recommended for you

Study reveals state of crisis in Canadian foster care system

Oct 24, 2014

A new study of foster care in Canada led by a researcher at Western University reveals a shrinking number of foster care providers are available across the country to care for a growing number of children with increasingly ...

Researchers prove the benefits of persimmons for diet

Oct 24, 2014

Alba Mir and Ana Domingo, researchers from the Department of Analytical Chemistry of the University of Valencia, under the supervision of professors Miguel de la Guardia and Maria Luisa Cervera, from the same department, ...

Hand blenders used for cooking can emit persistent chemicals

Oct 24, 2014

Eight out of twelve tested models of hand blenders are leaking chlorinated paraffins when used according to the suppliers' instructions. This is revealed in a report from Stockholm University where researchers analyzed a ...

User comments