A recent special edition of Health at a Glance (1) reveals new evidence about the growth in average life expectancy across Europe, whilst painting a picture of health inequalities.
- Life expectancy at birth in EU countries has increased by six years since 1980, reaching 78 years in 2007.
- On average across the 27 EU countries, life expectancy at birth for the three-year period 2005-07 stood at 74.3 years for men and 80.8 years for women. France had the highest life expectancy at birth for women (84.4 years), while Sweden had the highest life expectancy for men (78.8 years).
- Life expectancy at birth in the European Union was lowest in Romania for women (76.2 years) and Lithuania for men (65.1 years). The gap between countries with the highest and lowest life expectancies at birth is around eight years for women and 14 years for men.
The report points out that whilst life expectancy has increased, the number of “average healthy life years” in the European Union stood at 61.3 years for women and 60.1 years for men. Healthy life years at birth in 2005-07 was greatest in Malta for both men and women, and shortest in Latvia for women and Estonia for men.
The continuing gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy across Europe is worrying. Stefano Mazzuco and Marc Suhrcke (1), exploring the latest Eurostat Labour Force Survey, recently found health inequalities to have been increasing for most but by no means all countries and health indicators.
So whilst we should celebrate success in increasing life expectancy across Europe, we must also look at European action to tackle growing inequalities. More research is certainly needed, but so is a concerted approach to long term preventative healthcare by Governments across the EU.
Peter Barnett and David Sinclair
2) Mazzuco S, Suhrcke M (2010). What does Eurostat’s Labour Force Survey say about health and health inequalities in the European Union?
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