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Growing old in good health: significant disparities between European countries

Although life expectancy is constantly increasing in the countries of the European Union, living longer is not always synonymous with ageing well and knowing to what age a person will live in good health remains a very different question.

Jean-Marie Robine, Inserm research director, conducted research within the scope of the European Health Expectancy Monitoring Unit to answer this question. The study results show that men live on average without health problems up to an age of 67 years and women up to 69 years. However, significant disparities still persist between the countries of the European Union.

These new data are published in the November 17 edition of the The Lancet.

In 2005, the mean life expectancy in the European Union was 78 years for men and 83 years for women. In addition, an improvement in the quality of life of older people has become a major public health concern in industrialised countries. Past a certain age, health problems such as chronic diseases, cardiovascular disorders and problems of dementia become more frequent, etc. Although life expectancy has improved, the question of the number of additional years really lived in good health must still be asked. To answer this, Jean-Marie Robine and his team used an indicator based on the health status of men and women today aged over 50 years. This indicator consisted in asking the study subjects about their difficulties or not, for at least six months, in carrying out daily life activities (going to work, cooking, washing, etc.). The study results show that in Europe, men live on average without health problems up to an age of 67 years and women up to 69 years.

Nevertheless strong disparities exist between the various countries. For men, the lowest mean value was observed in Estonia where it was 59 years for men and 61 years for women. In Denmark, on the contrary this mean rose to 73 years for men and 74 years for women. France was very close to the European average, with figures of 68 years for men and 69 years and 8 months for women.

These results are correlated with the gross domestic product (GDP) of the various countries and the average health expenditure by the countries on older people. In general, high GDP and health expenditure were associated with better health of people over 50 years. In men only, long periods out of work (more than 12 months), few years at school and a low educational level were also responsible for fewer healthy life years.

The observed disparities were even greater when the last 10 countries to have integrated the European Union were studied separately. In most of these countries, the retirement age was greater or equal to the average age to which the people can hope to live without health problems. For the scientists, “without an improvement in the state of health of older people, it will be difficult to raise the retirement age in certain European Union countries”.

Séverine Ciancia | alfa
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