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Health at a Glance Europe 2012: Executive Summary

European countries have achieved major gains in population health in recent decades. Life expectancy at birth in European Union (EU) member states has increased by more than six years since 1980, to reach 79 years in 2010, while premature mortality has reduced dramatically. Over threequarters of these years of life can be expected to be lived free of activity limitation. Gains in life expectancy can be explained by improved living and working conditions and some health-related behaviours, but better access to care and quality of care also deserves much credit, as shown, for instance, by sharply reduced mortality rates following a heart attack or stroke.

Many health improvements have come at considerable financial cost. Until 2009, health spending in European countries grew at a faster rate than the rest of the economy, and the health sector absorbed a growing share of the gross domestic product (GDP). Following the onset of the financial and economic crisis in 2008, many European countries reduced health spending as part of broader efforts to reign in large budgetary deficits and growing debt-to-GDP ratios. Although these cuts might have been unavoidable, some measures may have an impact on the fundamental goals of health systems. Continuous monitoring of data and indicators on health and health systems is therefore important; it provides indications of the potential short and longer-term impact of changing economic circumstances and health policies on health care access, quality and health outcomes.