The variations in life expectancy and infant mortality – historically wide between EU member states – are narrowing, according to a report published on Monday (9 September) by the European Commission.
The report examines various factors causing health inequalities and finds that social factors such as income, unemployment levels and levels of education are drivers.
The review found many examples of associations between risk factors for health, including tobacco use and obesity, and socio-economic circumstances.
The gap between the longest and shortest life expectancy decreased by 17% for men between 2007 and 2011 and 4% for women between 2006 and 2011. Similarly, the gap in infant mortality went down from 15.2 to 7.3 per 1,000 live births between 2001 and 2011. Average infant mortality in the EU also fell during this period – from 5.7 to 3.9 per 1,000 live births. The data does not include Croatia, which joined the EU in July 2013.
The report points to positive developments in implementing the EU strategy on health inequalities, called 'Solidarity in Health', while concluding that more action is needed at local, national and EU levels.
"Inequalities in health in terms of life expectancy and in particular in infant mortality have been significantly reduced in the European Union in the past few years. This is encouraging," said EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg.
"However, our commitment must be unwavering in order to address the continued gaps in health between social groups and between regions and member states, as shown in this report. Action to bridge health inequalities across Europe must remain a priority at all levels," he continued.
Sweden has the highest life expectancy for men with 79.9 years, a difference of nearly 12 years compared to Lithuania where it is the lowest (68.1 years). For women, life expectancy is highest in France with 85.7 years, a difference of 8 years compared to Cyprus which has the lowest (77.8 years).
In 2010, there were seven EU regions with infant mortality rates greater than 10 per 1,000 live births. This is more than 2.5 the EU average of 4.1 per 1,000 births.