EU committed to increasing healthy life years

Written by Vytenis Andriukaitis on 5 April 2016 in Opinion

This will require a major focus on disease prevention and health promotion, writes Vytenis Andriukaitis.

Europe is turning increasingly silver and this trend will continue in the decades to come. Life expectancy has increased for both sexes in all EU countries. According to the latest data, the average lifespan has risen from 74 years of age in 1990 to 80 years in 2015. 

Based on the projections given in the Commission's 2015 ageing report, by 2060 life expectancy will have risen by seven years for men and six years for women, bringing the average lifespan to 84.8 and 89 years respectively.

As Commissioner for health, I want Europeans to aspire not only to live longer, but also to live longer in good health.


Sadly, the number of years lived in good health remains unchanged. The average EU citizen spends over 20 per cent of his or her life in poor health. At an individual level, this affects quality of life and at a national level it places significant pressure on healthcare systems.

To be able to ensure that Europeans age in good health, we need to take an integrated lifecycle approach to health, based on the needs of older citizens and focused on keeping people in healthy, functioning, independent and able to participate in society.

I would like to highlight four promising areas for achieving these healthy ageing goals: EU cooperation on eHealth, an innovation partnership for active and healthy ageing and advice on health systems tailored to the elderly. 

A fourth area - strengthening country-specific and cross-country evidence to identify the measures that can have the greatest impact, is taking root and promises a more strategic approach to keeping people healthier for longer.

Innovative tools such as eHealth are often considered to be the domain of the younger, tech-savvy generation. But I can assure you that we older Europeans are also embracing technology. 

Integrating digital solutions, such as eHealth, mHealth and telemedicine will play a prominent role in increasing healthy life years. For instance, mHealth apps can remind the elderly to take their medication on time and prevent the progression of their chronic illnesses.

Such experiences empower patients, notably those suffering from diabetes, by making them key players in their own health. I cannot emphasise enough the positive effect this can have on one's mental outlook.

The eHealth action plan 2012- 2020 sets out a long term vision for eHealth in Europe. The Commission will continue to work within the eHealth network, with stakeholders and member states, to maximise its potential for the benefit of patients of all ages.

The European innovation partnership on active and healthy ageing has the modest aim of increasing healthy life years in the EU by two years by 2020. To date, the partnership has brought together over 3000 partners, 1000 regions and municipalities, and 300 organisations to examine new ways of addressing the challenge of an ageing population.

Innovative programmes are already being rolled out, for example on adherence to medicines, prevention of frailty, chronic disease management and integrated care.

The Commission and the partnership have also developed a strategy to scale up successful practices. By mainstreaming innovative solutions for healthy ageing across all relevant policies at EU and national level, we expect to generate sustainable improvements, helping Europeans live longer in good health. Increasing healthy life years will obviously require a major focus on disease prevention and health promotion.

This is an area where the necessary investment has been lacking in Europe - only about three per cent of current healthcare expenditure is allocated to public health and prevention programmes.

Each year, the Commission provides concrete recommendations to a number of EU countries on how they can improve the effectiveness and sustainability of their health systems.

A key principle underpinning these recommendations is that ageing provides an opportunity to strengthen health promotion and prevention and to modernise health systems.

The aim of the Commission's advice is to help member states design healthcare systems that are fi t for purpose as the population ages and tailored to the needs of the elderly.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker specifically asked me to; "Build up country-specific and cross-country knowledge that can inform policies at national and European level". This is also valid for supporting member states in coping with demographic change.

Therefore, my major priority for the coming years is to strengthen and expand the knowledge we have already acquired. I want to deliver a robust country analysis, identifying the key challenges in health, for all 28 member states. 

This will be based on common methodologies, robust indicators and sound data. Having a precise picture of the situation in their country will allow national policymakers to develop effective healthy ageing policies that incorporate both prevention and care.

All Europeans deserve to have a long, healthy and active life. I believe that this goal is within reach. By working together at an EU-level, we have already made significant progress.

With greater effort and a better evidence base, we can design and deploy new and more effective prevention and care services.

We can build health systems that are fit for purpose and deliver the quality of care citizens need and deserve.


About the author

Vytenis Andriukaitis is European health and food safety Commissioner

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