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European Life Expectancy Rates On The Rise

March 18, 2011

Despite what has been dubbed an obesity epidemic, life expectancy throughout Europe is on the rise, according to researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

According to BBC News, epidemiologist and population health expert David Leon studied trends over the past four decades, and discovered that a decline in deaths related to cardiovascular disease were mainly to credit for the increase.

Furthermore, Leon, who published his findings in the International Journal of Epidemiology, said that during the past five years, the majority of European countries had begun moving in a “positive direction” for the first time in decades, and that people in the UK were now outliving their American counterparts in terms of average life expectancy (80 years to 78 years).

Leon and his colleagues also report that a nation’s wealth and the amount of money it spends on health care “do not necessarily correlate with its people’s lifespans,” reports Kate Kelland of Reuters.

“Despite spending more per head on health care than any other country in the world, life expectancy in the United States is at the same level as the lowest of any Western European country–Portugal for men and Denmark for women–and the rate for women is increasing at a much slower pace than Western Europe,” Kelland added.

In other parts of Europe, Leon said that a longstanding gap between life spans in Eastern countries and those in Western nations–the result of the “Iron Curtain” and the way in which it “hampered development of strategies to tackle non-communicable diseases in Eastern Europe,” according to a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine press release.

Leon reports that life expectancies of countries such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have risen since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but only at the same rate that it has increased in the West, meaning that those nations have been able to gain any ground.

In Russian and other former Soviet Union countries, however, Leon notes that life expectancy has been “going up and down dramatically over the past 25 years.”

The school’s press release, citing World Health Organization (WHO) and the Human Mortality Database (HMD) statistics, states that the life expectancy for Russian men was just 61.8 in 2008, and for women it was 74.2. In comparison, that same data showed that male life expectancy in the UK was 77.9, and female life expectancy was 82.0.

“Despite what many may have assumed, and without being complacent, current trends in European life expectancy are in a positive direction,” Leon wrote in his published editorial. “But while the European experience since 1980 underlines the centrality of the social, political and economic determinants of health, many intriguing and important questions remain unanswered about the drivers of these extraordinary trends.”

However, as he told the BBC, the full impact of those rising obesity rates has yet to be determined.

“We are yet to see the impact of a generation of people who have been obese from childhood through to adulthood. We can’t predict how that will affect life expectancy figures in the future,” Leon said. “We are definitely seeing type-2 diabetes occurring more in teenagers due to obesity, but this is not immediately being translated into mortality rates.”

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