Europe tops rankings on life satisfaction index, but findings expose not for all and not everywhere, WHO says

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Cristiana Salvi
WHO Regional Office for Europe
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Liuba Negru
WHO Regional Office for Europe
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Rome, Copenhagen, 14 September 2018

WHO Regional Committee for Europe annual meeting in Rome will discuss new findings on health and well-being of people in Europe and track progress against key health targets

Europeans’ sense of health, well-being and life satisfaction is higher than in many other parts of the world. Most people respond positively to the question: “How satisfied are you with life these days?” Across the WHO European Region, on a scale of 0 (least satisfied) to 10 (most satisfied), life satisfaction scores an average 6, but variations from country to country are pronounced – some have a score of 5 or below, others have some of the highest scores in the world, reaching up to 7.6.

These findings come from WHO’s flagship European Health Report, which will be formally launched at the 68th annual meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, WHO’s European decision-making body. The Committee will convene in Rome on 17–20 September 2018 and will bring together over 400 health ministers and high-level policy-makers, representing 53 European countries. It will also review progress and plan priorities in policy-making to improve health and keep the Region on track to meet its Health 2020 commitments and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Agenda 2030.

“The report shows that most European countries have taken significant steps towards hitting key targets set by Health 2020, thus contributing to achieving the health-related SDGs,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Progress is encouraging but uneven, both within and between countries. The point is that now we have to act together to live up to the pledges we all made when adopting the SDGs in 2015 and ensure health for all.”

The latest data also reveal that:

  • Europeans live on average more than one year longer when compared to five years ago. However, over a decade of difference remains between countries in the Region with the highest and lowest life expectancy.
  • The number of deaths from all causes for all ages has fallen by 25% since the beginning of the millennium.
  • Overall, the Region is surpassing the target of reducing premature deaths from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus and chronic respiratory diseases by 1.5% annually until 2020. The latest data point to a 2% decline per year on average.

However, the risk is real that these gains will be lost if the upward trends for overweight and obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption, and under-immunization continue at the current rate.

The findings of the report will provide a clearer picture of Europeans’ experiences and health needs, and strengthen policy-making for public health. The new evidence will be at the core of the discussions next week in Rome.

Agenda highlights

  • A new strategy on men’s health and well-being. Although men’s lives have become longer and healthier, average male life expectancy at birth ranges from 64 to 81 years – a 17 year difference among countries. In some countries in the eastern part of the Region, men’s risk of dying before the age 45 years is five times greater than in the western part.. The Committee will consider new health policies that meet men's specific health needs and tackle widespread inequalities among and within countries.
  • Adoption of the Action Plan to Improve Public Health Preparedness and Response in the WHO European Region. Over 20 000 health signals were detected last year in the Region and 50 were assessed and verified as health emergency events, that is one per week. Outbreaks in other continents are no longer far away, as the risk of importation and spread is enhanced by global travel and trade. The new Action Plan seeks to accelerate the implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005), a key tool in being collectively prepared to respond and ensure that 1 billion more people globally are better protected from health emergencies by 2023.
  • Vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization. The ongoing measles outbreak, which has resulted in over 41 000 infections and 37 deaths across the Region in the first six months of this year, reinforces the need for governments to implement immediate, broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and progress towards the elimination of this virulent disease, as committed to in the European Vaccine Action Plan.
  • Vector-borne diseases. Diseases transmitted by mosquitos and ticks are emerging as a major public health threat to European countries due to globalization, the increasing volume and pace of travel and trade, and weather patterns. West Nile virus infections are spiking in southern and central Europe. Countries will assess their implementation of measures in this area.
  • Health financing. Up to 8% of households in the Region cannot afford to pay for basic needs – food, rent and utility bills – after paying out of pocket for health care. Every country should keep these out-of-pocket payments under 15% of total spending on health. The delegates will look at new evidence on financial protection in European health systems.

The agenda also includes other issues of importance to the whole Region, such as migration and health, sustainable urban transport, vector-borne diseases and others.

“The decisions that will be taken at the Regional Committee meeting in Rome will help us streamline our efforts to work smarter, for quicker results. They will support the Region’s ministers of health in stepping up their work with the highest levels of government, and with all our other partners to ensure that health is firmly placed high on political agendas,” says Dr Jakab.

Key findings for Italy

The latest European Health Report shows that Italy is taking promising strides towards meeting key national and European Health 2020 targets. Life expectancy at birth in Italy is the second highest among European Union (EU) countries, and two thirds of the Italian population report being in good health.

“The indicators revealed by WHO for Italy are encouraging for the adult population, but less so for the younger segment. We are the country in Europe with the second highest life expectancy, but our attention needs to shift to the youth, as there are warning signs among this group that we cannot neglect any longer,” says Giulia Grillo, Minister of Health of Italy. “As for infectious diseases, we aim to develop a new national plan on vaccination based on the epidemiological situation and accompanied by information campaigns that improve people’s awareness about the necessity of vaccines. We will do all this, without losing track of the sustainability of a health system that ensures sufficient and adequate services for its population.”

Italian adults’ efforts to limit the negative impact of smoking, alcohol consumption and overweight and obesity are encouraging, resulting in some of the most positive health outcomes across the European Region. However, the outcomes for many adolescent are far less encouraging and, if left unchecked, may halt or even reverse progress in the future. In particular:

  • While the rate of smoking adults has decreased to slightly below the EU average, the smoking rates among adolescents are the highest in the EU.
  • One in five Italian adults are obese and 26% of 15-year-old boys are overweight or obese.

In the area of communicable diseases:

  • Italy reports some of the highest levels of antibiotic resistance in the EU.
  • Vaccination coverage is below the target of 95% set by WHO guidelines. Italy is one of the countries in the Region most hit by the current measles outbreak.

WHO will continue working together with the Italian and all European governments to help them steer a course towards better health for their entire population.