Decision-makers should stop ignoring risk factors like tobacco, which causes deaths that could have been avoided, Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told EurActiv.com.
A new survey of the EU’s statistical office Eurostat recently revealed a considerably high number of “avoidable deaths” in the EU.
In 2013, approximately 1.7 million people under 75 lost their lives across the European Union. According to Eurostat, one third of total deaths in the EU could have been avoided, a figure that puts the performance of member states’ health systems in question.
“Avoidable deaths” means those that would have not occurred if timely and effective health care had been in place, Eurostat said.
In particular, around 577,500 deaths (or 33.7% of the total) could be considered as premature, as they could have been avoided in light of medical knowledge and technology.
Lowest rate in France
The highest proportions of avoidable deaths were registered in Eastern and South-East Europe, with the exception of Poland (31.4%), which stood below the EU average of 33.7%.
Romania and Latvia scored the biggest numbers, with 49.4% and 48.5% respectively, followed by Lithuania (45.4%) and Slovakia (44.6%).
On the other hand, the share was below 30% in France (23.8%), ahead of Denmark (27.1%), Belgium (27.5%) and the Netherlands (29.1%).
Heart attacks and strokes
Eurostat pointed out that heart attacks and strokes led the share of potentially avoidable deaths in 2013.
Heart attacks accounted for 184,800 avoidable deaths or 32% of total avoidable deaths of persons aged less than 75, followed by strokes (93,900 or 16%), colorectal cancers (67,000 or 12%), breast cancers (50,800 or 9%), hypertensive diseases (28,700 or 5%) and pneumonia (24,100 or 4%).
According to another Eurostat survey, the number of deaths from heart attacks and strokes dropped significantly in the European Union between 2000 and 2013.
Compared to 2000, fatal heart attacks and strokes were responsible for 16.6% and 11.5% of all deaths respectively, a proportion which dropped significantly 13 years later (12.9% and 8.7%).
The same survey showed France had the lowest share of deaths caused by heart attacks or stroke.
The instruments exist
Andriukaitis told EurActiv that a number of risk factors were disregarded at the expense of EU citizens’ health.
“In the EU and beyond, too many risk factors – tobacco, unhealthy nutrition, lack of exercise, alcohol abuse, stress as well as broader social issues such as unhealthy housing or working conditions – are ignored, too many deaths are avoidable and too many lives are unnecessarily lost,” he noted, adding that instruments to fight these risk factors exist.
“They are in the hands of all the decision-makers at all levels. Therefore, promoting good health and preventing diseases is the responsibility of all of us.”
Focus on smoking
The EU health chief recently strongly criticised the tobacco industry, saying it “only kills people” and compared tobacco deaths with terrorism.
Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, and one week after the new Tobacco Products Directive entered into force, the Commissioner told EurActiv that the executive’s objective was to decisively decrease the number of EU smokers.
“Only tobacco causes 700,000 premature deaths in the EU every year. I hope that the tobacco directive will lead to increasingly lower smoking rates across the EU, leading to better health and wellbeing for our citizens and significant lower rates in diseases and premature deaths,” he stressed.
- 31 May: World No Tobacco Day
- Eurostat: Avoidable deaths in 2013