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European Health Levels Suddenly Collapsed After 2003 and Nobody Is Sure Why 304

KentuckyFC writes "Europeans are living longer. But since 2003, they've suddenly enjoyed fewer years of healthy life. For example, in Italy between 1995 and 2003, life expectancy increased from 75 to 80.1 for men and from 81.8 to 85.3 for women. At the same time, the number of years of healthy life increased from 66.7 to 70.9 for men and from 70 to 74.4 for women. But since 2003, while life expectancy has increased further, the number of years of healthy living has plummeted to about 62 for both sexes. More worrying still is that demographers say the same trend has been repeated right across Europe. Only the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands appear to have escaped. That raises an obvious question: what happened in 2003? One idea is that the weather is to blame. In 2003, Europe experienced an extreme heat wave that led to some 80,000 extra deaths across the region. And the higher temperatures could also have triggered ill health, particularly in older people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes. That has important implications for governments who have to pay for health costs in Europe. And it raises the possibility that climate change is already having a bigger impact on human health than anyone imagined."
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European Health Levels Suddenly Collapsed After 2003 and Nobody Is Sure Why

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  • Facebook (Score:5, Funny)

    by muftak ( 636261 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:50PM (#45530961)
  • Are they fatter? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:52PM (#45530975)

    My guess would be that they are just following America's lead and are becoming fatter.

    The article even says:

    And yet this increasing lifespan masks a dark secret. Many developed countries are suffering an epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease thanks to poor diets and sedentary lifestyles. The numbers are such that they must inevitably influence the health of nations as a whole but by how much?

    Then the authors go on to blame it on the weather.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Maybe it's all the waiting lists for their socialized health care.


    • by CyberSnyder ( 8122 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:00PM (#45531077)

      Screw it. It's too hot to go outside we'll stay inside and eat. I know that most older people that I know start going downhill quickly when they stop moving.

      • by tsa ( 15680 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:17PM (#45531299) Homepage

        Not only older people. When I was young we used to play with Lego in the winter and be outside when it was warm. Many of today's youth just play computer games all day long, on their playstations or what have you and outside on their phones. They only move their thumbs.

        • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

          Not only older people. When I was young we used to play with Lego in the winter and be outside when it was warm. Many of today's youth just play computer games all day long, on their playstations or what have you and outside on their phones. They only move their thumbs.

          But they move them really really quickly.

        • to be fair, it's not like lego is super intense. unless Europeans do it differently than americans.

        • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @06:04PM (#45531869)

          Lego in the winter? Playing outside in the winter.

          When people see how much I eat, they are amazed that I am as fat as I am. I then tell them I still eat way too much for what I do. This is my (and many other peoples) life
          Get up and wash
          Walk 15 meters to my car and drive to work
          Get out of my car and walk 15 meters to the elevator.
          Get to the floor and walk 10 meters to my desk.
          Sit at my desk till lunch, where I walk another 20 meters.
          Back to my desk, then to the elevator, to my car and plant myself in front of my tv/PC.

          That means I do not even walk 200 meters per day. How can I NOT be fat?

          Luckily I will have to change the office where I work. That means I will have to take public transport. That means around 2KM walking per day. Still not a lot, but already a 10 fold increase of what I do now and if I do not take the two stops at the metro (in summer when the weather is nice) I will double that figure.

          For many kids the same thing happens when they are being brought to school by mom/dad instead of going by public transport.

          • ah but if you eat right you can do that and lose weight.

            My old job I was on my feet all day, lifting heavy loads constantly.( i could carry 120lbs a quarter mile, walk back and do it again) I usually had a large lunch, minimal breakfast and dinner. I gained on average 1-2 pounds a year, after 15 years though that adds up.

            I moved changed jobs and diet.
            I know sit in an office for 8 hours a day. I walk maybe 500meters on the average day. I still eat a minimal breakfast, but lunch is now a yogurt, and maybe

          • That means I do not even walk 200 meters per day.

            I bet you if you grab a pedometer you will see that you walk a lot further than 200 meters. Even if that is just repeated trips to the bathroom/fridge. But still probably not much more than 2000 steps. So this will double when you change jobs.

            Why is it that so many people like you are aware of this but are not doing anything about it?

          • by xaxa ( 988988 )

            I don't think I get as much exercise as I should, and I cycle 13km every working day, my flat and office are both on second floors but I don't use the lifts, and I don't own a car so all trips not cycled are by public transport. Also, it's at least 500m from the office to the usual place for lunch. (I'm skinny, but I'm still in my 20s and doubt sitting for most of the day and many evenings does me any good.)

            I've been considering going swimming at lunchtimes, but haven't yet made the time to do so.

    • by Mr Krinkle ( 112489 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:03PM (#45531117) Homepage

      We prefer the terms,
      "Big boned"
      "horizontally blessed"

      Saying we're fat can lessen our mental well being which causes global warming.

    • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @06:13PM (#45531953)

      I don't know why the jump to a conclusion about the weather, or why the assumption that the catalyst must have necessarily occurred precisely in 2003. I would put my money on this being an issue with diet. Monsanto's MON 810 strain of corn was approved for growing in the EU in 1998, for example. It's probably more likely that they are adopting a western diet though, which tends to make people unhealthy [].

    • by r1348 ( 2567295 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @07:03PM (#45532507)

      That sounds reasonable, but it doesn't explain why the European nation with the biggest weight problem (UK) seems unaffected.

    • Or "Austerity" (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @08:14PM (#45533291)
      which as near as I can tell is code for Wealth Inequality. Around 2003 the rich made a major money grab, netting the biggest gains in history while saddling everyone else with massive debt. You've probably got a lot of Europeans putting in American style 60 hour (high stress) work weeks. They're also probably drinking more sugary caffeinated drinks to cope with the extra workload needed to keep their heads above water while their wages plummet.

      So basically, cut peoples standard of living through a program of massive wealth transference to the top 1% and their life expectancies go down. Who knew?
  • In Europe old people don't expect the Spanish Inquisition :-)
  • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:54PM (#45530991)
    Rather than conclude that the heat wave is the culprit, first find some comparative events. Its not like there is a historical shortage of heat waves to use to validate the theory, yet there seems to have been no attempt to do so mentioned.
  • by Bucc5062 ( 856482 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <2605ccub>> on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:56PM (#45531027)

    How about the austerity measures, put into place across Europe. Perhaps the stress countries are coming under is spreading to peoples health to the point were it is a negative response. Happy people live longer and in many EU countries, people are not happy.

  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:59PM (#45531059) Homepage Journal
    This has to all be Barak Obama's fault, personally. There is no other possible explanation.
  • by Man On Pink Corner ( 1089867 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:04PM (#45531131)

    ... of less healthy people, who probably experienced more malnutrition and disease in childhood, might explain it.

    More likely it's just a bug in the survey's methodology.

    • I would like to see a break down of the numbers by ethnic group and, especially, ethnic group and native born. Many of ills of adulthood can be traced to things like childhood malnutrition, lack of sanitation and exposure to various diseases, etc. Even things as mundane as having a smokey cook stove/fire inside the house. Lots of people who immigrate to Europe from other parts of the world do so to escape these. Unfortunately, they can't always escape the legacy.


  • Sweden case is odd (Score:5, Informative)

    by amaurea ( 2900163 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:05PM (#45531143) Homepage

    The article lists Sweden among the countries where the years of health are going down, but when you look at the graph for individual countries, Sweden has a strong positive trend, and does not go down significantly in any year. Is that an error, or have I missed something?

    On a side note, the article is confusing "Europe" with "The European Union". They aren't the same thing, especially when making statements like "Only the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands appear to have escaped". They didn't consider Iceland, Norway, Switzerland or any of the eastern european countries, for example. (Also, France is among those considered, and also doesn't seem to be declining).

    Finally, the study is based on interview subjects' own perception of their health, and so might be affected by news reporing on health or other psychologial effects. But it is definitely an interesting result they've found.

  • This has been posted on here before, so I'm kind of just karma whoring, but I have long suspected, and explained to others, that this idea that we can all work until we're 70 or 75 because we'll live to 100 for this generation is bullshit, a scam to keep us grinding along and working until we drop dead. I say that with all the technological advances we've made in the last 50 years we may have less of an idea of what much of it does to the body than we think. it might not be making for a good quality of life

    • actually we all HAVE to work until 75 to pay for the welfare state juggernaut.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:13PM (#45531247)

    lots of immigration into europe. and if they eat anything like my russian in laws this explains everything

    the russians eat too much carbs. the only people on the planet to eat pasta and bread and potatoes together. and then they wonder why they get diabetes

  • by Drethon ( 1445051 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:14PM (#45531257)
    Is the cause in 2003 or is it a delayed cause from a decade, two decades or even eighty years ago?
  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:15PM (#45531269) Journal

    You can't jump to conclusions about the weather. The thing about France is telling. They didn't drop until 2006, and I remember hearing some truly awful things about what the heat did to the elderly there. If I had to guess, I'd say that some change in government policy had something to do with it. UK is not as strongly tied to Europe. Some of these other countries are tied in economic union; but they are still sovereign. Perhaps France was able to provide good retirement benefits just a bit longer. That would be the first place I'd look--the impact of government policies that impact the elderly. If you suddenly have to take an early retirement and aren't getting the same benefits that will impact your lifestyle.

    Government policy impact does a better job of explaining discrepancies between countries, the sudden change, and why some are not affected even though they share a similar climate.

    Of course my speculation is no better than theirs. The people that are getting paid to do this need to go back and analyze their data some more.

    • It wasn't just what the _heat_ did to the elderly, but what the _medical system_ allowed to happen to everyone.

      The 2003 heat wave killed 13,000 people in France. Hospital corridors became overflowing morgues. Half the doctors were out for their month of vacation time, and the ones that were on the job worked three 12-hour shifts and then stayed home for 4 days. The two groups switched places when the first group's vacation month was over. And they were all just following the laws that required that.

      When I s

    • I simultaneously love and hate your sig.

  • by Another, completely ( 812244 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:19PM (#45531341)
    Could this be because it's easier to get diagnosed with diabetes, COPD, or other non-healthy conditions than it was in 2002? I've heard enough anecdotal evidence to make me ask the question, but it would be nice to see a study. How many people who were considered healthy in 2002 could visit a doctor in 2013 and be declared unhealthy, and how does that fraction vary by country? Unless an article can control for that variable, the other numbers don't really mean much.
  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:22PM (#45531393) Journal

    Medical technology keeping unhealthy people alive far longer than it used to.... []

  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:22PM (#45531401) Homepage
    Could it be related to The Great Depression? Somebody who lived until they were 85, and died between 2003 and 2013 would have been born between 1918 and 1928. Basically, they would have been quite young during the great depression. I wonder if something like this could have big effects so much later in life. It's mostly likely that, or possibly that a lot of them ended up being veterans of the war, as they would have been around 15-25 years old when the second world war was going on. I'm sure there's some very reasonable explanation why this group of people aren't living so many healthy years.
  • by Loopy ( 41728 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:26PM (#45531443) Journal what happened in 2010 to cause the even larger spike upward, and why did it reverse itself.

  • by gbrandt ( 113294 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:27PM (#45531453)

    I bet its food quality. The quality of our food has gone down as we try to get more and more off the land. Health care has gotten better though.

    So people are staying alive longer but are less healthy.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      That could be measured by heights of children vs. parents. Assuming they have had children.

  • by leehwtsohg ( 618675 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:27PM (#45531457)

    This paper is in its infancy. It is somewhat garbled, the methods don't really specify the methods.
    The methods are basically "we graphed mortality over time". But you can't really criticize it much,
    because it is not published, and probably not submitted yet. The only question is why did it get to slashdot?

    The most likely explanation for the effect at this stage is some kind of error. Either in the calculation,
    or as the authors point out, in the wording of the questions (which probably would be a good idea to
    test before this paper is published ?)
    "Standardized translations of the questionnaire have been used; nevertheless it is likely that linguistic or cultural differences, as well as changes in the wording of questions, have influenced the way the respondents indicate a longstanding health problem or disability and their way of communicating the types of restrictions caused by this problem"
    Or, in the population measured (migration from East-Block countries?) or many other possible problems.
    All these I'd bet much higher chances than a real health effect.

    • Replying to myself.

      The relevant stats are about years of healthy life, and not life expectancy. That didn't change at all.
      So whatever effect there is has nothing to do with dying, and only with being sick (Huh?)
      Years of healthy life has a lot to do with wording of questions, and just looking over the italy stats in the raw
      data, the years of the anomaly are also the years in which the data table states that the question was worded differently.

      So, my conclusion is: nothing to see here, move on.

    • This paper is in its infancy. It is somewhat garbled, the methods don't really specify the methods.

      The paper would barely pass a Freshman English class at a competent school. It looks like something a high-schooler would write. There's plenty to criticize in the thing. The structure is scattered and disjointed, for a start, and that's before even getting into the methodology, of which there is none. It's merely a graph that they probably picked up somewhere, as you mentioned.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:35PM (#45531525)

    So what else happened to the European Union after 2003? Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Hungary joined the E.U. in 2004. These countries have huge numbers of elderly people in relatively poor health as a result of mediocre Warsaw Pact health and nutrition. This will obviously lower the overall health of the EU average, but I'm willing to bet a bunch of them migrated to other EU countries and depressed the stats for individual nations.

    Don't think I'm arguing against immigration here: the effect is to increase the health of the European continent overall, which is a good thing.

    • by qbast ( 1265706 )
      By far the biggest migration from eastern to western europe is 1-2 million Poles moving to UK since 2003. And UK is one of countries that escaped health decline which makes your theory improbable. Actually I am not sure where you got the idea that people from Warsaw Pact countries were malnourished. If anything they ate much healthier than Western Europeans.
    • by punker ( 320575 )

      Excellent point. If you change your target population significantly, then comparability goes out the window. I've done alot of health stats work, and that sort of change would probably mean the results were denoted as not comparable. In a related example, I had a heart disease analysis, and we had to break it in two parts because there was a significant change in the way that the diagnosis were recorded around 2005.

      Now you could regenerate the pre-2003 numbers including the populations of the soon to join t

    • Statistically this doesn't add up. Even if a million such people moved to each of the countries in the study it would not have caused the numbers to drop by over 10 years. It also doesn't explain the countries that are the exceptions.

    • The comparison is made for each individual nation, not for the EU as a whole.

  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:42PM (#45531607)

    Whatever you do don't put the blame on you blame it on the rain yeah yeah. Cuz the rain don't mind and the rain don't care.

  • Did they choke on their own smug?

  • People live in all kinds of climates so that seems like a stretch to me.

    However since 2003 there have been two significant changes in the food chain.

    GMOs have become prevalent thruout the food chain.

    Neonicotinoid pesticides have become widely used.

  • Gee, what officially has NOT been occuring for the past decade?? Here's a hint: the forums are full of shills who'll be glad to reassure you that it's not actually happening, regardless of what you think you see (so STFU and look back down at the ground).
    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      I think the shills will be right this time. I think we'll find that they changed the definition of what is a "healthy life" around 2003. It explains, for example, why the phenomenon honors national borders (and why Sweden was affected, but not Denmark). This smells of change in methodology.

      So sure, we can blame climate change, water fluoridation, or imbalanced chakra, but as I see it, there probably isn't any change in EU human health to worry about here.
  • Didn't the War in Iraq start in 2003? How many of these nations were in the coalition of the willing? This could be war weariness.
  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @07:44PM (#45533017) Homepage Journal

    All the H1B programmers that had been hired to work on Y2K returned to Europe, bringing with them the North American diet.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @09:41PM (#45533931) Homepage

    McDonalds.. The American fast food chains started pushing HARD across europe.

    The Herpes that is american fast food is spreading across the planet.

  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @10:20PM (#45534219)

    That has important implications for governments who have to pay for health costs in Europe.

    Government does not pay health costs. Citizen do through taxes, or insured people do through fees.

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