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Are we living longer, healthier lives in the EU?

Setting World Cup considerations –or grievances -to one side, the 14-nation study found that in 2003 Portugal had the lowest life expectancy at birth for men, -almost 4 years less than the highest (Sweden).

Italy and France were the top two nations for life expectancy –among women. Italy narrowly beat France as far as life-expectancy for men was concerned.

Between 1995 and 2003 life expectancy at birth rose in all 14 European countries by on average 3 months each year for men and 2 months for women, claims the report from the first year’s work of the European Health Expectancy Monitoring Unit* (EHEMU).

In 2003 Portugal had the lowest life expectancy at birth for men, almost 4 years less than the highest (Sweden). Women’s life expectancy was lowest in Denmark and highest in France.

2003Annual increase in LE at birth (months)2003Annual increase in LE at birth (months)
“Whether the extra years of life gained were spent in good or bad health remains a crucial question,” said Professor Carol Jagger from the University of Leicester who co-leads the EHEMU project.

“Compared to life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy varied more widely across the EU countries but this may be due to cultural differences in how people report disability. So at present ranking countries by the years people live without disability is not recommended. However the trends between 1995 and 2001 will be less sensitive to such differences so we can compare how disability-free life expectancy is tracking life expectancy between countries”.

The report found that between 1995 and 2001 Belgium, Italy and Spain appeared to be the healthiest countries as both men and women’s disability-free life expectancy at birth was increasing faster than life expectancy. In Denmark, Great Britain and Portugal disability-free life expectancy was increasing at the same rate as life expectancy. Other countries showed differences between men and women: in the Netherlands men’s disability-free life expectancy increased faster than life expectancy but women’s disability-free life expectancy declined over the period so Dutch women were living longer but the extra years were spent with disability.

“We now have to explore the reasons for these differences through in-depth analyses” said Professor Jagger. “EU countries vary widely on a number of factors that could be responsible such as smoking and diet as well as the prevalence of diseases that commonly result in disability such as stroke and coronary heart disease. The new EU structural indicator Healthy Life Years which will be based on more comparable data, is an important step forward in monitoring the health of our ageing European populations for future planning.

Alex Jelley | alfa
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