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Ageing: how long can we expect to be healthy into our twilight years? [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

The number of European citizens aged 65 and over is set to double over the next 50 years; while data on life expectancy (LE) for this ageing European population can help us make predictions for the future, they still only tell us half the story. The next piece of the puzzle is...
Ageing: how long can we expect to be healthy into our twilight years?
The number of European citizens aged 65 and over is set to double over the next 50 years; while data on life expectancy (LE) for this ageing European population can help us make predictions for the future, they still only tell us half the story. The next piece of the puzzle is working out how many of those years will be healthy years, and new data has just been published for each EU Member State showing how long people can expect to live without a disability.

These 'Healthy Life Years' (HLY) figures were presented at the first annual meeting of the European Joint Action on Healthy Life Years (EHLEIS) which was held in Paris on 19 April, and hosted by EHLEIS coordinator Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM).

LE at birth is the average number of years that a newborn is expected to live if current mortality rates continue to apply. In 2009, the LE at birth for men living in any of the 27 EU Member States (the EU-27) is 79.7 years, and the figures show that of these, they can expect 61.3 HLY, nearly 80% of their LE at birth. For the same year, women in the EU-27 could expect 62 HLY, 75% of their LE at birth: 82.6 years.

HLY is an important European policy indicator put in place as part of the Lisbon Strategy to assess the quality of life and functional health status of Europeans. The HLY indicator is also part of the European Community Health Indicators (ECHI), and was set as the overarching target of the first European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Active and Healthy Ageing that was launched in February 2011. The aim of the Active and Healthy Ageing EIP is to ensure care for Europe's ageing population is sustainable in the long term, with the target being an increase of two years of healthy life in the EU by 2020.

The data also show that in 2010 in the EU, Sweden had the longest LE at birth, at 79.6 years for men, while Lithuania had the shortest, at 68 years. Swedish men can also expect to be healthy up to the age of 71.7 years, whereas men in Slovakia have the lowest HLY rate at 52.3 years.

Interestingly, the findings show that over the period spanning 2008 to 2010, and despite its low LE and HLY rate for men, Lithuania experienced the largest HLY gain, almost three years, whilst the Netherlands saw the largest decline: a loss of 1.3 years. This shows that there is therefore often a tendency for health expectancies in Europe to move closer together: the gap between Lithuania and the Netherlands fell by more than four HLY in just three years.

In 2010 in the EU, France and Spain had the longest LE at birth (85.3 years) for women, and Bulgaria the shortest (77.4 years), a gap of nearly 8 years. In 2010, Malta had the highest HLY rate (71.6 years) for women and Slovakia the lowest (52.1 years).

It is again Lithuania that experienced the largest HLY gain in women (2.4 years) over the period from 2008 to 2010, confirming the observation made for men, whilst Finland saw the largest decline (a loss of 1.7 years). As in men, women's health expectancies show some convergence.

HLY data are obtained by applying the prevalence of disability observed in the general population to a standard life table, to distribute the years lived into those lived with disability and those lived free of disability. For the HLY indicator, the prevalence of disability comes from the annual European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) survey coordinated by EUROSTAT.

The prevalence of disability is measured by a general question on activity limitations: To what extent has an individual been limited for at least six months, due to health problem, in activities people usually do?
Source: Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM)

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  • France
Record Number: 34533 / Last updated on: 2012-04-20
Category: Report summary
Provider: EC