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EU Commission checks Europe’s state of health. Stalled life-expectancy

The EU Commission and the OECD published a joint report that analyses health conditions in EU Countries, in candidate countries and in EFTA countries. Critical aspects include the spread of mental illnesses, tobacco smoking, and alcohol consumption even among adolescents

Bruxelles, 22 novembre: il commissario Vytenis Andriukaitis presenta la relazione Ue sulla salute in Europa

Gains in life expectancy have slowed down throughout Europe while “affluent-Country” disorders are increasing. These include diabetes, obesity, harmful consumption of alcohol; spiking mental illnesses and psychological disorders. These are some of the main findings of the Report on health and health systems in the European Union, with marked differences from one Member country to the next.

Lifestyle, health threats. The Report, “Health at a Glance: Europe 2018” is jointly published by the European Commission and by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It is based upon comparative analyses of the health status of EU citizens and the performance of the health systems in the 28 Member States, 5 candidate countries and 3 EFTA countries (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland). The first striking finding is that the steady increase of life expectancy has slowed down, while

“large gaps across and within countries persist, notably leaving people with a low level of education by the wayside.”Moreover, Europe is among the world regions where people live the longest,  but obviously ageing is not an endless process. It is linked to healthcare, lifestyle, nutrition and endless other factors, such as one’s profession. Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, remarked: “While the life expectancy in the EU is among the highest in the world, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. Many lives could be saved by increasing our efforts to promote healthy lifestyles and tackle risk factors such as tobacco or lack of physical activity.” The fact that heart diseases are among the first causes of death is telling of these health “threats.”

Universal access to health care. In its numerous chapters the Report enjoins to face risk factors such as tobacco smoking, alcohol and obesity, reduce premature mortality and “ensure universal access to care and strengthening the resilience of health systems.” As relates to life expectancy – considered a key-factor to determine the population’s state of health – the Report shows that while it was rising rapidly and steadily across EU countries until 2011, this trend “has markedly showed down” (could the economic crisis be an indirect cause?). Furthermore, large disparities in life expectancy persist not only by gender (women live longer than men), but also by socioeconomic status. Surprisingly, the Report states, “on average across the EU, 30-year-old men with a low level of education can expect to live about 8 years less than those with a university degree (or the equivalent).” The countries where people live longer they are still Spain and Italy, with more than 83 years. While in Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania the average is less than 75 years. The EU average is approximately 81 years.

Mental health: a problem. Other relevant findings refer to “more than 84 000 people in EU countries who died as a result of mental illness” in 2015. ” The total costs of mental ill-health are estimated at over EUR 600 billion per year.” An alarming 40% of adolescents “report at least one ‘binge drinking’ event” in the preceding month. Although alcohol control policies “have reduced overall alcohol consumption in several countries”, points out the Report, “heavy alcohol consumption among adolescents and adults remains an important public health issue.”

Public and private health. Several chapters are dedicated to healthcare services and performance. Evidence from various countries suggests that “up to 20 % of health spending could be reallocated for better use.” However, “a mix of policy levers could optimise spending by ensuring value for money, for example in the selection and coverage or procurement and pricing of pharmaceutics through Health Technology Assessment.” In a note, the Report underlines that “low-income households are five times more likely to report unmet needs than high-income households.” It all depends on the Country – or the region – in which people live, and the economic resources of the families enabling them to chose where, by whom and how be treated (with regard to efficiency and territorial dissemination of public healthcare systems and to the presence of “private” healthcare centres.)

Aid to Member states. The Report was first launched by the Commission in 2016 with the purpose “to assist EU Member States in improving the health of their citizens and the performance of their health systems.” Seven Member States (Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden) requested a voluntary exchange to discuss the findings and share best practice.

The next report will  focus on the health profiles of all EU countries, highlighting “the particular characteristics of and challenges for each Member State, and will be presented alongside a Companion Report in which the Commission draws cross-cutting conclusions.”

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