Does The European Union Need To Do More To Prevent Chronic Diseases?

Although the average life expectancy continues to rise across the EU, a new report from the European Commission has said that European countries are still not doing enough to prevent diseases. The two year survey was conducted across all member states, and highlighted the need for increased attention into the prevention of chronic diseases like cardiovascular illnesses.

The report shows that chronic diseases account for an estimated 80% of overall EU healthcare expenditure; while an average of 3% of countries budgets are spent on preventing these diseases. These deaths “translate into €115 billion in potential economic loss each year,” says the survey, prepared by European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

The Commission noted that a large percentage of chronic diseases are caused by lifestyle, including smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity. Although there’s some resistance from the public into government policies to reduce these factors, they would mean better public health as well as a massive return in terms of health treatment costs.

The report warned that “The EU as a whole is not doing well when it comes to these risk factors,” the report warned. The European Union has the highest alcohol and tobacco consumption in the world” Although rates of smoking, drinking and obesity have fallen over the last 15 years, it’s clear that the problem is still serious and EU has a long way to go in terms of prevention of illnesses.

The Commission aims to promote prevention, and provides ongoing support to member states in terms of regulation labelling on products and regulating the marketing of alcohol, tobacco and high fat foods. “There are a lot of measures that can be applied besides labelling, For example, the way alcohol is sold: hours can be restricted, there can be a ban on sales.” a Commission spokesperson said.

Socio-economic factors are an issue which has been highlighted by the report. The Commission claims that inequalities need to be addressed, and that the lack of preventative measures in some groups is much higher than others. According to the report “Regular physical activity is less common amongst low-income groups in the vast majority of member states”, the report states, while “smoking is prevalent amongst unemployed (46 percent).”

Education is considered another area where major inequalities exist across Europe. For example, children in Spain and Greece have much higher rates of obesity, which is being put down to a lack of education.  Education is also a key factor when it comes to screening for diseases, with statistics showing that in breast cancer screening programs there is a difference of 72.5% take up among highly educated women vs 66.3% in lower educated women.

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