Gaps in EU life expectancy, infant mortality narrow

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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.

'Encouraging' report

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.

In 2009, the European Commission adopted a strategy on health inequalities entitled "Solidarity in Health: Reducing Health Inequalities in the EU".

The progress report published today looks at how far we have come on the five main challenges laid out in the strategy.

The Commission wants an equitable distribution of health as part of overall social and economic development; improving the data and knowledge base; building commitment across society; meeting the needs of vulnerable groups; and developing the contribution of EU policies.

Overall, the Commission's action aims both to support policy development in EU countries and improve the contribution of EU policies to address health inequalities. An ongoing Joint Action, running from 2011 to 2014, is a major vehicle to achieve this.

European Commission

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