Alcohol, smoking, and rising obesity 'causes for concern in Europe'

Alcohol, smoking, and rising obesity 'causes for concern in Europe'
Copyright REUTERS
By Cristina Abellan Matamoros
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Europeans may be living longer but alcohol consumption levels, smoking and a rise in obesity could slow the continent's progress.


Europeans are living longer than five years ago but smoking, alcohol, obesity and poor vaccination rates are holding the region back, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

What are the key takeaways from the report?

  • Europeans live on average more than a year longer than they did five years ago. Life expectancy gaps between countries and sexes have also narrowed. However, women still live six years longer, on average, than men, and there is more than a ten-year difference between the country with the highest life expectancy (83.1) and the lowest (71.6).

  • The region is surpassing the target of reducing premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases. There is also a decline in the number of deaths from external causes of injury or poisoning.

  • Alcohol, smoking, rising obesity and poor vaccination rates are hindering regional progress. The rates of alcohol consumption and smoking are the highest in the world.

  • Adult alcohol consumption is still the highest in the world.

  • Rates of tobacco smoking among adults in Europe are the highest in the world with one-in-three people aged 15 and above are smokers.

  • Overweight and obesity levels have risen all over Europe with more than half of Europeans now overweight. In most countries, women suffer more from an obesity problem than men.

  • Although child vaccination rates have improved across the region, significant differences between countries persist. As a result, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles in some countries are obstructing the region's ability to get rid of this disease, says WHO.

  • Europeans' sense of well-being is the highest in the world — but variations between countries persist.

Uneven progress

“The latest European health report shows that most European countries have taken significant steps towards hitting key targets set by Health 2020, thus contributing to achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

However, according to Jakab, discrepancies amongst countries and certain "lifestyle" choices could slow down the gains made in life expectancy.

“Progress is uneven, though, both within and between countries, between sexes, and across generations. Lifestyle-related risk factors give cause for concern, as they may slow, or even reverse the great gains in life expectancy if left unchecked.”

What is the WHO's European health report?

The report, which is published every three years, tracks the progress made towards the 2020 health targets adopted in 2012 and highlights areas of concerns. It helps policy-makers identify areas that need further monitoring and policy action at the national level. Targets include reducing premature mortality, increasing life expectancy, and reducing health inequalities in the region.

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