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Incontinence > Research and Science > Growing old in good health – substantial inequalities exist within European countries

Growing old in good health – substantial inequalities exist within European countries

Although life expectancy is constantly increasing in the countries of the European Union, living longer does not necessarily mean that most of these extra years are spent in good health.

Danish senior citizens enjoy healthier old age.

A British research team grouped around Carol Jagger, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Leicester, have undertaken a research project on life expectancy within the EU, i.e how long a human could expect to live free of activity limitation and without any health problems at 50 years of age (The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61594-9). Using an  indicator value called Healthy Life Years (HLYs) at 50 years, they found that substantial inequalities in HLYs at 50 years exist within the 25 countries in the EU. According to the authors, major improvements in population health should be made in some countries, in order to meet the target of increasing the labour force participation rate of older people (aged 55-64) by 50 % until 2010.

As expected, there were variations between men and women, but in general the researchers found that the 15 ‘established’ EU countries had higher life expectancies and HLYs at 50 years than the 10 ‘newer’ EU countries.

For men, the highest life expectancies were 80 years in Italy and Sweden, while the lowest were 71 years in Latvia and Lithuania. HLYs at 50 years for men were highest in Denmark (24 years), whereas the male population in Estonia only lived for another 9 years in good health at 50 years of age.

For women, life expectancy was highest in France, Italy and Spain (85 years), while the lowest values were again in Latvia and Hungary (79 years). HLYs for women at 50 years were highest in Denmark (24 years), and thus were far ahead of Estonian women having an HLYs of 10 years only.

In Germany, statistical findings showed that life expectancy for men was 79 years and women 83 years. It was thus equal to or slightly above the average EU level showing values of 78 years for men and 83 for women. Whereas HLYs at 50 years were significantly lower showing values of 13 years for men and 14 years for women (average EU level: 17 years for men, 19 years for women).

It was also found that for men only across all the countries, long-term unemployment was associated with fewer HLYs at 50 years.

In an accompanying Comment, Dr. Errol Crook and Dr. Terry Hundley, Department of Internal Medicine, University of South Alabama, say that the HLYs value provides more data and insight into the status of population health than life expectancy does and that HLYs at age 50 years will be a more appropriate measure to determine return on investment in the healthcare sector.