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Older people’s health varies greatly between EU countries, finds research

17 November 2008

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Older people’s health varies significantly between countries in the European Union (EU), according to a new study.

Research conducted on “healthy life expectancy” by the European Health Expectancy Monitoring Unit (EHEMU) investigated the average age at which people will be expected to remain in good health.

Using a new indicator called Healthy Life Years, the researchers found that in 2005, life expectancy in the EU was 78 years on average for men and 83 for women, while men live on average without any health problems up to 67 years and women to 69 years.

However, they found that “great disparities” exist between EU countries, and the differences in Healthy Life Years are much greater than differences in life expectancy.

The lowest “years of healthy life” is in Estonia, where the age is 59 years for men and 61 for women. In Denmark, by contrast, it is 73 years for men and 74 years for women.

The UK is higher than the European average, with figures of 69 years and nine months for men, and 70 years and nine months for women.

These results are correlated with the overall wealth of the different countries as measured by GDP and the average level of health spending by the countries on older people. In general, a strong GDP and higher health spending are associated with more Healthy Life Years at age 50.

For men, long periods out of work (more than 12 months) and poorer education were equally responsible for fewer Healthy Life Years.

The disparities observed are even stronger among the last 10 countries to have joined the EU. For most of these countries, the age of retirement is higher than or coincides with the average age at which people can hope to live without health problems.

Carol Jagger, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Leicester and part of the EHEMU research team, said: “Without an improvement in the state of health of older people, it will be difficult to raise the retirement age or bring more older workers into the workforce for certain EU countries.”

University of Leicester