Europe-wide increase in chronic diseases - many diseases could be prevented

OECD and EU Commission publish report on health in the EU
Many people in Europe suffer from chronic illnesses that can be traced back to an unhealthy lifestyle and that would in principle be avoidable, according to one of the key messages in the joint report of the EU Commission and the OECD "Health at a Glance: Europe 2016". "A better public health and prevention policy and more effective health care could (...) save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of euros in Europe every year," reports the OECD.

According to the study authors, Europe pays a high price for chronic diseases. Across Europe, an estimated 550,000 premature deaths among people of working age were caused by chronic diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer in 2016. This cost the EU economies around 115 billion euros or 0.8 percent of the gross domestic product per year - without taking into account the costs for the productivity restrictions of the chronically ill and the lower employment rates.

Growing supply disparities between the poor and the rich
Average life expectancy in Europe has risen steadily over the past few decades, but a closer look reveals clear differences between individual countries and certain population groups. In the current report, it becomes clear that differences in life expectancy "between the least and most educated, between the poorest and richest are being exacerbated," reports the OECD. On average in the EU countries, the life expectancy of people with the lowest level of education is seven years shorter than for people with a very high level of education.

Many poor people without access to medical care
OECD Secretary-General Angel GurrĂ­a said at the launch of the report that more needs to be done "to reduce inequalities in access and quality of care." The number of low-wage earners who have limited access to health care for financial reasons is increased significantly in several EU countries after the global financial crisis. In Greece, the proportion of poor people who did not have access to necessary medical care due to the costs has more than doubled since 2008 (from 7% in 2008 to over 16% in 2014).

Health expenditure in Eastern EU countries lower
The report also shows the share of health expenditure in the gross domestic product. In 2015, this accounted for an average of 9.9 percent of EU GDP in Europe. According to the OECD, around 11 percent of GDP in Germany was spent on health care. In contrast, countries in the eastern part of the EU would tend to spend much less, at five to six percent of gross domestic product.

Efficient use of funds required
"It turns out that many people in the EU die each year from potentially preventable diseases that are related to risk factors such as smoking or being overweight," stresses EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis. Improved prevention could prevent thousands of deaths here every year. The report provides good information for the member states to identify sensible measures and to make health systems more efficient in channeling resources. In this way, the money can be used where it has the greatest impact on health or prevention, explains the EU Commissioner.

Falling alcohol consumption in the EU
According to the authors, some successes have been achieved in containing risk factors for chronic diseases in Germany and almost all other EU countries. For example, alcohol consumption among adults in Germany has decreased by 15 percent since 2000. However, this is only one side of the coin. On the other hand, regular excessive alcohol consumption is more common in Germany than in most other EU countries. "According to their own information, a third of all Germans over 15 years of age consume larger quantities of alcohol at least once a month", which is well above the EU average of 22 percent (e.g. Great Britain 22 percent, Austria 19 percent), reports the OECD.

The report also notes a further decline in tobacco consumption. The proportion of regular smokers in Germany has dropped from 24 to 21 percent since 2003, which is exactly the EU average. Very few people smoke in Sweden and Finland (only 12 and 15 percent of the population, respectively).

Future challenges
In view of the demographic change, the need for treatment will not only grow in the future but also change, the authors explain. This presents many EU countries, including Germany, with the challenge of ensuring good long-term access to strong primary care, especially in rural and socially disadvantaged areas. Here, the experts continue to see significantly increasing costs for the individual Member States, although more efficient use of resources could cushion development. (fp)

Author and source information

Video: The growing burden of chronic disease - Health Divide Pt 1. (December 2021).