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Grow old in good health – vast disparity between European countries

Although life expectancy is constantly growing in the countries of the EU, living longer isn’t always the same as living well, and knowing to what age someone will live in good health remains a different question altogether.

Carol Jagger, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Leicester, is part of the European Health Expectancy Monitoring Unit (EHEMU), who have undertaken a research project on healthy life expectancy within the EU.

Using a new indicator called Healthy Life Years, they found that in 2005 life expectancy in the EU was 78 years on average for men and 83 for women, while men live on average without any health problems up to 67 years and women to 69 years.

Great disparities persist, however, between the countries of the EU, and the differences in Healthy Life Years are much greater than differences in life expectancy.

The lowest ‘years of healthy life’ is seen in Estonia, where the age is 59 years for men and 61 for women. In Denmark, by contrast, those values rise to 73 years for men and 74 years for women. The UK is higher than the European average with figures of 69 years and 9 months for men and 70 years and 9 months for women.

These results are correlated with the overall wealth of the different countries as measured by GDP and the average level of health spending by the countries on older people. In general, a strong GDP and higher health spending are associated with more Healthy Life Years at age 50.

For men, long periods out of work (over 12 months) and poorer education were equally responsible for fewer Healthy Life Years.

The disparities observed are even stronger among the last ten countries to have joined the EU. For most of these countries, the age of retirement is higher than or coincides with the average age at which people can hope to live without health problems.

Carol Jagger commented: “Without an improvement in the state of health of older people, it will be difficult to raise the retirement age or bring more older workers into the workforce for certain EU countries.”

Partner institutions in the research project are: the University of Leicester; the French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED); The Scientific Institute of Public Health, Belgium; the Erasmus Medical Center, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands; and the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, (Inserm)

Ather Mirza | alfa
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