Life expectancy in Europe continues to rise, but obesity and the growing proportion of overweight people could reverse this trend, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Wednesday.
In its European Health Report, covering 53 countries in a wide geographic area, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the UN agency found that well-being is the highest in the world, but very different in the region.
The average life expectancy from birth has increased from 76.7 years in 2010 to 77.8 years in 2015. Women live longer than men – 81.1 years compared to 74.6 years for men, although the gap has narrowed slightly.
There are also big differences between the countries. Men live almost 16 years longer in Iceland (81.4 years) than in Kazakhstan (65.7 years).
"Progress is uneven, both within and between countries, between the sexes and between the generations," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO director for Europe.
But she warned, "Lifestyle-related risk factors are a concern, as they can slow down or even reverse large life-expectancy gains if they are not controlled."
Four out of ten Turks are obese
"Obesity and obesity are showing an upward trend in almost all Member States," says the report, which was published in London.
In 2016, 23.3 percent of people in the region were overweight, 2.5 percentage points in six years and 58.7 percent were overweight, an increase of 2.8 percentage points.
The trend is particularly pronounced in Turkey, where almost four out of ten women – 39.2 percent – are overweight.
The WHO definition of obesity is someone with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, ie more than 87 kilograms for someone 1.7 meters.
Two other countries with a particular problem are Malta, where 29.8% of the population is overweight, and Britain, where it is 27.8%.
The report also notes that Europe has the highest rates of smoking and alcohol use in the world.
29 percent of over-15s smoke, compared to 16.9 percent in the Americas and 24.8 percent in Southeast Asia.
According to the WHO from 2013, the number of smokers in Greece is increasing to 43.4 percent, in Russia to 39.5 percent and in France to 28.1 percent.
However, the proportion of daily smokers in all countries has fallen from 28.1 percent in 2002 to 24.4 percent in 2014.
Alcohol consumption has dropped from the highs of the 1990s and 2000s, but with 8.6 liters per person in 2014, Europeans still drink more than other regions.
"While overall alcohol consumption is declining, adult use is still the highest in the world," the report said.
Among the countries of the European Union, Lithuania had the highest average alcohol consumption of 15.2 liters per person in 2014, followed by the Czech Republic (12.7) and Belgium (12.6).
Cancer deaths are falling
Premature deaths from cancer, diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are on the decline, and the region is well on its way to achieving its goal of achieving an annual reduction of 1.5 percent by 2020.
These deaths fell by nine percent between 2010 and 2015, to 715 deaths per 100,000 population.
This despite a growing number of cases – in the EU, cancer diagnoses increased by five percent between 2010 and 2014 to 569 cases per 100,000 people.
Overall average health expenditure in the region remained "almost unchanged" in 2014, at 8.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) compared to 2010.
But there are big differences in health insurance.
In 2014, household payments accounted for 16.7% of total health expenditure in the EU, compared with 45.8% in Russia and 9.7% in the UK.
The report noted growth in countries with strategies to reduce inequality, which helped to reduce infant mortality and vaccine coverage.
However, the WHO warned that in some countries, including Ukraine and Montenegro, more had to be done to prevent measles vaccines.