The rising incidence rate of chronic illness is a challenge for the European health system. It has become a key concern for policy-makers as they lead to higher use of health services and ballooning costs.
European health standards have improved significantly over the last 15 years, which has led life expectancy to increase by six years in the EU since 1990. While this is welcome news, EU lawmakers should turn their attention towards disease prevention, according to the European Commission. In the State of Health in the EU report, a two-year survey conducted in all member states, the EC said member countries should pay more attention to chronic diseases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines chronic disease management as the “ongoing management of conditions over a period of years or decades.” Major and chronic diseases – defined as diseases affecting at least 50 per 100 000 people – include heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and mental disorders. Many of them are linked to an ageing society, but also to behavioural risk factors such as smoking, bad diets, lack of exercise.
Such diseases together cause 87% of deaths in the EU-28. But their impact is felt beyond death rates. The report shows that, on average, chronic diseases account for up to 80% of EU healthcare costs. However only 3% of EU countries’ budget is spent for prevention. This gap “translate into €115 billion in potential economic loss each year,” says the survey, prepared by European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.
The report warned that “the EU as a whole is not doing well when it comes to these risk factors.” Although rates of smoking, drinking and obesity have fallen over the last 15 years, it’s clear that the problem is still serious. For one, EU countries still have the highest alcohol and tobacco consumption in the world. “Prevention is better than the cure”, points out EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis adding that “we are far from prevention.”
One way to have better results would be further taxation of alcohol, tobacco, sodas and high fat foods. But there are socio-economic factors that need to be addressed. For instance, low level of education are correlated to poor preventive policies, the study says. What’s more, “regular physical activity is less common amongst low-income groups in the vast majority of member states, according to the report.
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