Europeans live longer but smoke too much: WHO

Life expectancy in Europe has risen according to a new report by the World Health Organization. But there are still caveats: Smoking and rising obesity are hindering progress.

Europeans are healthier and living longer compared to five years ago, according to the European health report published Wednesday.

However, the study by the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that smoking and rising obesity could reverse the gains if left unchecked, and revealed “significant” discrepancies between countries with the highest and lowest life expectancy.

Key findings:

Europeans live on average more than one year longer when compared to five years ago. But there is still over a decade of difference between countries with the highest and lowest life expectancy.

Premature deaths have fallen since the beginning of the millennium.

Premature deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus and chronic respiratory diseases are falling at a higher rate than aimed for.

Smoking, alcohol, rising obesity and under-vaccination are hindering progress in some countries.

Tobacco use is the highest in the world, with one in three people aged 15 and above smoking.

Alcohol consumption has gone down, but adult drinking remains the highest in the world.

Over half of Europeans are overweight, with obesity in adults on the rise across most of the continent.

‘Uneven progress’

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said the report showed that most European countries had taken “significant steps” towards meeting the key targets approved under the Health 2020 initiative, a European health policy framework.

But she warned that the progress faced risks from lifestyle-related factors such as smoking, alcohol and obesity.

“Progress is uneven, though, both within and between countries, between sexes, and across generations,” Jakab said. “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 European health report? The report, which is published every three years, tracks progress against targets set under the Health 2020 initiative, adopted in 2012. The targets include reducing premature deaths and health inequalities, and increasing life expectancy.

How did Germany fare? In Germany, alcohol consumption remained very high. People aged 15 and above consumed 11 liters of alcohol per year, above the European average of 8.6 liters, WHO expert Claudia Stein told the dpa news agency.

Vaccination rates have improved significantly in Germany, with around 97 percent coverage for measles. With a life expectancy of over 81 years, Germany was in the top quarter of the list.

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