Alcohol, tobacco and obesity undermine the progress of European health policies

More alcohol is consumed in Europe than in any other region. [James Crisp/Flickr]

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that Europe is still the world leader in alcohol and tobacco consumption. For the first time, the life expectancy of the current generation could be shorter than their parents. EURACTIV France reports

Europeans consume large amounts of alcohol and tobacco, and the number of people growing overweight or obese in the region is a cause for serious concern, according to a WHO report on health in Europe.

In 2012, the WHO’s 53 European member states adopted a policy framework called Health 2020. One year later, these countries established six targets to serve as indicators for the application of Health 2020

“The European Region is on track to achieve the Health 2020 target to reduce premature mortality,” the report stated, but still has the “highest levels of alcohol consumption and tobacco use in the world”, and is only a close second to the Americas on obesity rates. The report found that “much more can be done to reduce major risk factors”.

Alarming statistics

Europeans consume on average 11 litres of pure alcohol per person per year, and 30% of the region’s population smokes. 59% of Europe’s population is overweight or obese, a close second to the Americas, where the figure is around 62%.

>>Read: MEPs push for alcohol strategy on the EU’s health agenda

The report also highlights the large gap between the countries in the region with the highest and lowest life expectancies. Of the 39 countries studied (including the European Union and the countries of the former Soviet Union), life expectancy varied from 71 to 82 years; a gap of 11 years.

Claudia Stein, the director of research in the WHO’s European office, told AFP that if action is not taken on the major risk factors, “We may risk the gains in life expectancy we have seen, which may mean that the next generation may lead shorter lives than we do.”

Cardiovascular diseases still on the front line

These figures will do nothing to topple cardiovascular disease from its position as the world’s leading cause of death. But the WHO believes that 80% of these premature deaths could be avoided if these factors were reduced by cutting tobacco and alcohol consumption and promoting sport and healthy diets.

>>Read: Heart disease: a regional problem

Around 17 million people die from cardiovascular diseases every year; one third of all premature deaths, according to WHO statistics. Close behind the leading cause of death are cancers, diabetes and respiratory diseases.

More tracking, more information

The implementation of the Health 2020 strategy is advancing. 75% of the signatories of the plan had aligned their national health policies with it in 2013, up from 58% in 2010. These policies include information and advice campaigns, as well as efforts to encourage the population to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Claudia Stein said, “We are on track, which is excellent news, but we cannot take our eyes off the objective. We must do more work on the risk factors if we really want to reach the objective” of reducing premature deaths by 1.5% per year by 2020.

The report concluded that “Enhanced international collaboration is required to move the health information research and development agenda forward in the Region.” 

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