Longer life, but not necessarily healthier life

Life expectancy now exceeds 80 years in most EU countries according to the new report “Health at a Glance: Europe 2016“, but these are not always healthy life years. Around 50 million people in the EU suffer from several chronic diseases, and more than half a million people of working age die from them every year, representing an annual cost of some €115 billion for EU economies. Three fundamental changes are needed if this is going to change:

  • more effective health systems: 550,000 people of working age die every year from potentially avoidable diseases. 16% of adults are obese now (up from 11% in 2000) and one in five is still smoking. Many lives could be saved firstly, by focusing more resources on health promotion and disease prevention strategies and secondly, by improving the quality of acute and chronic care.
  • more accessible health systems: 27% of patients go to A & E due to the lack of availability of primary care; an average of 15% of health spending is paid directly out-of-pocket by patients with large disparities between countries; and poor Europeans are on average 10 times more likely to have problems in getting proper healthcare for financial reasons than more affluent ones. Member States’ policies should focus on reducing financial barriers to healthcare, strengthening access to primary care, and reducing excessive waiting times.
  • more resilient health systems: Across the EU the share of the population over 65 has increased from less than 10% in 1960 to nearly 20% in 2015 and is projected to increase to nearly 30% by 2060. Population ageing, combined with increasing rates of chronic diseases and budgetary constraints, will require changes in how we deliver healthcare, including developing eHealth, reducing hospital stays by organising services better in primary and community care, and spending more wisely on pharmaceuticals, including by making full use of opportunities for generic substitutions.

More information about Improving Health Systems on the europa.eu website

Air pollution kills 467,000 Europeans a year

Air pollution is causing around 467,000 premature deaths in Europe every year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned. People in urban areas are especially at risk, with around 85% exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at levels deemed harmful by the World Health Organization (WHO).

These particles are too small to see or smell, but can have a devastating impact, causing or aggravating heart disease, asthma and lung cancer.

Download the Air Quality in Europe 2016 report from the eea.europa.eu website

 

New psychoactive substances in Europe: challenges and solutions

The new psychoactive substances (NPS) market has increased so fast that existing drug control laws have been left behind. European countries have responded in a variety of ways: some have introduced new legal responses to NPS, based on existing consumer or health protection laws,  or laws governing medicinal products, while others have developed innovative new legislation. However, in 2014 the EU’s Court of Justice ruled that substances are not medicinal products if they do not have beneficial effects on human health, thus restricting the use of such laws for NPS control.

This report is in two parts; the first is aimed at policymakers, and lists the challenges in NPS control and the solutions adopted in selected Member States. The second part is for legal practitioners, and focuses on the judgment of the Court of Justice and its practical effects on the transnational prosecution of NPS cases, describing the responses of some of the Member States most affected by the ruling.

Download the full report on New Psychoactive Substances on the emcdda.eu website

Urban green spaces deliver multiple health benefits

A new WHO report summarizing evidence on the health effects of green space in urban areas shows that they offer numerous public health benefits, including psychological relaxation and stress reduction, enhanced physical activity and a potential reduction in exposure to air pollution, noise and excessive heat.

The report concludes that there is a need for both small, local green spaces situated very close to where people live and spend their day, and large green spaces that provide formal recreational facilities (such as playing fields) and opportunities to interact with nature.

The report also presents a toolkit for a geographic information system (GIS)-based approach to measuring urban green space. This provides cities with a way to calculate how many people have access to green spaces and to identify new areas where they can be established.

Download the report on Urban Green Spaces and Public Health from the euro.who.int website

A Healthy Weight for Ireland

In the past two decades levels of overweight and obesity in Ireland have doubled with only 40% of the population having a healthy weight. This represents one of the biggest public health challenges Ireland is facing today and according to the WHO these levels are forecast to increase, so Ireland may top the European “League Tables” in this regard. The fact that the majority of the population is overweight or obese means that Ireland faces a dramatic increase in chronic diseases which, in the worst case scenario, will reverse the improvement in life expectancy seen in the last few decades.
Ireland has now produced ‘A Healthy Weight for Ireland – Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 – 2025’ to help people achieve better health and in particular to reduce the levels of overweight and obesity. It also acknowledges that the solutions are multiple andthat every sector has a role to play.
The full Obesity and Action Plan can be downloaded from the health.gov.ie website

Environmental sustainability in health systems

Health systems have a substantial impact on the environment and are major consumers of energy and resources, according to evidence compiled in the new WHO policy paper “Towards environmentally sustainable health systems in Europe”.

The paper explains that although health systems use up natural resources, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and produce large quantities of waste, including hazardous material, they can also have a positive impact on the environment – particularly in the areas of health promotion and environmental health protection activities.

Find out more about environmentally sustainable health systems on the euro.who.int website

Lead Poisoning in Europe

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. Yet, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that in 2013 lead exposure accounted for 853,000 deaths globally and 16.8 million disability-adjusted life years due to its long-term effects on health.

Lead poisoning can lead to developmental, behavioural and neurological disorders, anaemia, tiredness and muscle weakness, as well as kidney and liver damage. Scientific studies demonstrate that there is no safe threshold for lead in the human body; efforts should therefore focus on minimizing exposure as much as possible.

According to a WHO survey, 34 of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region report having legislation regulating lead paint in place. However, in some countries this regulation is not yet enforced. In addition to lead paint, lead is found in emissions from industrial processes and waste management, in drinking water (due to the use of lead in water pipes), in consumer products such as toys, cosmetics or jewellery, and in lead-acid batteries.

WHO/Europe encourages all European countries to join forces to advocate for reducing the risks to human health from lead through minimizing environmental and occupational exposure, particularly for children and women of childbearing age.

More information about Lead Poisoning is on the euro.who.int website.

Consumption of fruit and vegetables

On average across the EU, only 1 in 7 people aged 15 or over eats at least 5 portions of fruit or vegetables daily……while 1 in 3 have days when they do not eat any fruit or vegetables at all.
Regular consumption of fruit and vegetables is considered an important element of a healthy and balanced diet yet in the EU slightly more than a third (34.4%) of the population aged 15 or over did not eat them on a daily basis in 2014, while less than 15% (14.1%) consumed at least 5 portions each day.
The daily consumption of fruit and vegetables differs widely between EU Member States, with those aged 15 or over not eating fruit and vegetables on a daily basis ranging from almost two-thirds of the population in Romania (65.1%) to slightly over 15% in Belgium (16.5%). On the other hand, the share of those eating at least 5 portions daily varied from a third in the United Kingdom (33.1%) to less than 5% in both Romania (3.5%) and Bulgaria (4.4%).
Different for men and for women, daily consumption of fruit and vegetables seems also to be influenced by the level of education. The higher the education level, the higher the share of the “5-a-day” population.
More statistics on healthy eating habits can be downloaded from the ec.europa.eu website

Alcohol-attributable deaths in Europe

For the first time, trends in alcohol consumption and related mortality have been examined systematically for all countries in the WHO European Region for an extended period. WHO/Europe’s new report “Public health successes and missed opportunities. Trends in alcohol consumption and attributable mortality in the WHO European Region, 1990–2014” shows that over the past 25 years alcohol-attributable deaths increased by 4%.

The European Region ranks highest globally in terms of adult per capita alcohol consumption, and the level and patterns of drinking have contributed substantially to mortality from cardiovascular diseases (CVD), cancer, liver cirrhosis, and unintentional and intentional injury.

More information and the full report on Alcohol consumption and public health can be downloaded from the euro.who.int website

Adding to Social capital and individual Potential in ex-Industrial REgions (ASPIRE)

This proposed project will be applying for funding under the Interreg VA France (Channel) England programme which focuses on issues that affect the coastal areas of southern England and northern France. In both areas there are places currently deeply affected by the closure of a single dominant employer such as mining, ship-building and heavy industrial production. The local economy has found it hard to replace the jobs lost and the resulting deprivation shows in the levels of unemployment and general ill-health (mental and physical).

This project will initiate and encourage small-scale community involvement in growing, cooking and selling local produce, creating a healthier community and enabling small businesses to evolve and regenerate the local economy.

The Health and Europe Centre are the lead partners in this project and although it is in its very earliest stages, we already have a number of organisations interested in becoming partners, including Medway CIC, KCC, Plymouth Council, Kent CHFT and the Hadlow Group through the Betteshanger Community Park.