Although Europeans have become healthier and their life expectancy has improved in recent decades, major differences persist in the provision of care services and the presence of risk factors for health across the continent.
According to the 'Health at a Glance: Europe 2010' report, jointly published by the European Commission and the OECD, the overall health picture has improved dramatically in European countries in recent decades, thanks to better standards of living, improved lifestyles, better education and greater access to quality health services. But large gaps persist regarding life expectancy at birth, for example.
For women life expectancy varies from 84.4 years in France to 76.2 years in Romania and for men from 78.8 years in Sweden to 65.1 years in Lithuania, reducing the difference between a Lithuanian man and a French woman to 20 years.
Shortages of health workers are also a source of potential inequality in the EU 27. According to the report, the number of doctors per capita varies greatly and is lowest in Turkey, followed by Poland and Romania.
In addition, in nearly all countries, the balance between general practitioners and specialists has changed in the last few decades, with the number of specialists increasing much more rapidly.
Shortages of nurses remain a concern in many countries, the report underlines.
Rate of obesity doubled since 1990s
But Europeans seem to be equal in one aspect: they are all getting fatter, and more quickly.
According to the report, more than half of the total adult population across the EU is now overweight or obese: a condition which also affects one in seven children.
On average 15.5% of the European adult population is obese, but the figure varies from less than 10% in Romania, Switzerland and Italy to over 20% in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Iceland.
The report underlines that the rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past 20 years in most EU countries for which data are available, and these rapid increases occurred regardless of the levels of obesity two decades ago.
As obesity is associated with higher risks of chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease, increases in obesity levels and being overweight have considerable implications on health, health systems and the wider economy, stressed the Commission.
Currently, obesity-related illnesses are estimated to account for as much as 7% of total healthcare costs in the EU.
The OECD report, which focuses on key trends on health, health systems and health spending in the EU-27, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, addresses everything from daily fruit eating among 11- and 15-year-olds to the five-year breast cancer survival rate and cases of coronary angioplasty per 100,000 people.
- Commission press release:Health in the EU: Nutrition deemed a growing challenge for health in the EU and beyond(7 December 2010)
- European Commission and OECD:Health at a glance: Europe 2010(7 December 2010)