European lifestyle risks raise concerns

  • 24/09/2015

By Ruth Holmes

"Alarming" rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity in Europe could mean the next generation live shorter lives, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

While Europeans are living longer than ever before, increases in life expectancy and declines in premature mortality may "flatten off" if the three big lifestyle risk factors are not dealt with, a senior WHO director said on Wednesday (local time).

In a report on the region's health, the WHO said there remain "unacceptably high" differences in life expectancy between countries, with an 11-year gap between the highest and lowest.

Levels of premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) - including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases - are decreasing "quickly", the report said.

But levels of alcohol consumption, tobacco use and obesity remain "alarmingly high" and this "could mean that this progress is not maintained", it warned.

"Europeans live long lives and healthy lives. We are the longest living region in the world," said Claudia Stein, a senior WHO director for Europe.

But "the differences in health status between European countries are ... inexplicably wide".

"If rates of smoking and alcohol consumption and obesity do not decline we may risk the gains in life expectancy we have seen - which may mean that the next generation may lead shorter lives than that we do."

Although rates of smoking and alcohol consumption are declining in many parts of the continent, Europeans still smoke and drink more than people anywhere else in the world, according to the WHO.

It estimates that on average 11 litres of pure alcohol are drunk per person each year, while 30 percent of the population uses tobacco.

Meanwhile obesity is increasing, with 59 percent of Europe's population either overweight or obese, ranking only slightly behind the Americas, which have the highest rates in the world.