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Established EU Countries Healthier Than Newcomers

Study says quality years could be extended with more elder-care funds

MONDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Citizens in the 15 established European Union countries have a longer life expectancy and more healthy life years (HLYs) after the age of 50 than those in the 10 newer EU nations, a new study shows.

The higher a country's gross domestic product (GDP) and spending on elderly care, the more HLYs a person at 50 can expect to live, according to the researchers.

For men, the highest life expectancies were in Italy (80.4 years) and Sweden (80.3), while the lowest were in Latvia (71.3) and Lithuania (71.7). For women, the highest life expectancies were in France (85.4), Italy (85.3) and Spain (85), while the lowest were in Latvia (79.3) and Hungary (79.4).

For men at age 50, HLYs were highest in Denmark (23.6) and Malta (21.7) and lowest in Estonia (9) and Hungary (10.8). For women at 50, HLYs were highest in Denmark (24.1) and Malta (22.5) and lowest in Estonia (10.4) and Hungary (11.4).

The researchers also found that among 50-year-old men in all EU countries, long-term unemployment was associated with fewer HLYs, and lifelong learning was associated with more HLYs.

"Our finding that a 1 percent increase in spending on elderly care would result in a one-year increase in HLY at 50 years in the 15 established EU countries, compared with a 13-year increase in the 10 newly joined EU countries, draws attention to the dissimilarities," wrote Professor Carol Jagger, of the University of Leicester, U.K., and colleagues.

"Generally, citizens of the established European community (15 EU countries) have both longer and healthier lives than do most of those of the 10 new EU countries. In future years, we will be able to compare whether countries are experiencing compression or expansion of morbidity similarly," they wrote.

"A major target for Europe is that the employment rate for older workers [defined as 55 to 64 years of age] should reach 50 percent by 2010. However, the low HLYs at 50 years for some countries, especially those of the 10 newly joined EU countries, coupled with already early retirement ages, suggest that this target will not be achieved in some countries unless substantial health improvements are made. The present work shows that monitoring HLYs can be used to assess whether such targets are realistic."

The study was published online and was expected to be in an upcoming print issue of The Lancet.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about life expectancy.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Nov. 16, 2008

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