Health and Science

More than half a million Europeans die prematurely each year - Report

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Chronic disease, obesity, smoking, drugs and alcohol are cutting short the productive life of millions of Europeans, according to a review of 36 countries published by the European Commission and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The "Health at a Glance" study finds that the premature deaths of 550,000 working-age people each year results in the potential economic loss of around 115 billion euros - or about 0.8 percent of the EU's annual gross domestic product (GDP).

"We cannot continue to lose half a million people of working age every year prematurely," said Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis in a speech in Brussels Wednesday.

The report noted that so called big countries such as Germany, Sweden and France spend around twice as much relative to GDP than countries in the eastern regions of the EU such as Latvia and Bulgaria.

Using the data for 2012, cancer is shown to have large variations across the bloc, with higher rates in northern European countries such as Denmark, France, Belgium, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Greece and Cyprus registered the lowest rates of incidence, occurring in just 200 people per 100,000.

However the OECD noted progress in reducing smoking in most EU countries through a mix of awareness campaigns, regulations and taxation.

Alcohol use is said to require more attention, however. Among adults, Lithuanian consumption in 2014 was measured to be higher than any other European country, registering more than 14 liters per adult per year.

The alcohol "angels" are Turkey with adults on average downing less than 2 liters per year.

Cocaine "most common"

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"Cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant in Europe," the authors wrote.

Across Europe, 1.9 per cent of young adults aged 15 to 34 report using cocaine in the last year with usage rising in the Czech Republic, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland.

In the UK this young adult figure stands at 4.2 per cent, far outweighing other European countries.

And Britain is also blighted with high rates of the sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhea.

Out of every 100,000 people in the British population, 60 were found to have the sexually transmitted infection.

This compares to a European average of 20 per 100,000 people.

For obesity, Malta was the worst offender with 26 percent of the adult population in 2014 considered at an unhealthy weight.

Italy, Norway and Romania were reported as the best at keeping the weight off.

On a more upbeat note, the report finds people are living on average seven years longer than they were in 1990, with life expectancy rising from 74.2 years to 80.9 years.

And data showed survival rates for heart attacks, strokes and several types of cancer have gone up. This is credited to more efficiency in delivering healthcare, more doctors and earlier diagnoses.

Andriukaitis also said the report was "the fruit of extremely valuable partnership" between the European Commission and OECD and would mark the first step in a longer-term collaboration.

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