Obesity threatens to reverse gains in life expectancy -WHO

By June Shannon Obesity News   |   20th Sep 2018

Europeans living longer but lifestyle risk factors such as obesity, threaten progress

People in Europe are living longer and healthier lives but factors such as smoking, alcohol and obesity are hindering progress in some countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

The European health report 2018, which was published recently by the WHO, revealed that life expectancy in the WHO European Region continues to rise, and that some European countries enjoy the highest sense of “life satisfaction” recorded anywhere in the world. However, significant discrepancies between countries across numerous key indicators, and the failure to halt or substantially reverse the negative effects of tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, overweight and obesity, and under-vaccination remain causes for real concern.

“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.

“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,” she added.

Over half of the population is overweight and trends for both overweight and obesity in adults are on an upward curve across most of Europe

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Some of the key findings of the European health report 2018, which was launched ahead of the annual meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, currently taking place in Rome, Italy, included that in the European Region, people live on average more than one year longer compared to five years ago. However, there is still over a decade of difference (11.5 years) between countries with the highest and lowest life expectancy.

Overall, the report found that Europe was surpassing the target of reducing premature deaths from the four major noncommunicable diseases – cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – by 1.5 per cent annually until 2020. The latest data point to a 2 per cent decline per year on average. However, the report warned that lifestyle factors affecting mortality from these causes remain a major concern, and may slow, or even reverse gains in life expectancy if left unchecked.

The report found that tobacco smoking rates are the highest in the world, with one in three people aged 15 and above smoking.

While alcohol use is declining overall, adult consumption is still the highest in the world. Levels of consumption vary between countries, ranging from 1 to 15 litres per capita every year.

Over half of the population is overweight and trends for both overweight and obesity in adults are on an upward curve across most of Europe, with considerable variations between countries.

“Many of the issues faced in Ireland are also faced in Europe and there is much we can achieve by working together to tackle the causes of conditions such as heart disease and stroke,"

Janis Morrissey, Head of Health Promotion, Information and Training , Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting Janis Morrissey, Head of Health Promotion, Information and Training with the Irish Heart Foundation said, the WHO report was helpful in providing a context for assessing and measuring Ireland’s progress in tackling health issues.

“While it is encouraging that Europe is surpassing the target of reducing premature deaths from major chronic diseases including heart disease and stroke, the report rightly highlights that progress is not being made at the same pace for all members of society. There is also a real risk that a lack of progress on improving the lifestyle causes of these conditions such as tobacco, diet and activity could mean that the gains in life expectancy could be reversed.”

“Many of the issues faced in Ireland are also faced in Europe and there is much we can achieve by working together to tackle the causes of conditions such as heart disease and stroke. It is very welcome that the data collected for this report is becoming more rounded with a focus not just on numbers but also on subjective measurements such as wellbeing and community empowerment,” she added.

Published every three years, the European health report aims to track progress against targets set by the European policy framework, Health 2020, which aims to establish equitable, sustainable and universal health-care systems in Europe that give individuals control over the health decisions that most affect their lives.

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