While the overall level of health across the WHO European Region has clearly improved, European health statistics show inequities within and between countries, according to the European health report 2012 (1). The report is the flagship publication of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, issued every three years.
The report, covering the Region's 53 countries and nearly 900 million people, reveals that people are living longer and healthier lives. Life expectancy is rising across the Region, increasing by 5 years since 1980 to reach 76 years in 2010. People over 65 years of age are projected to comprise more than 25% of the total population in the Region by 2050. Nevertheless, major inequities in life expectancy are found between men and women, between countries and between population groups.
"The European Region is undergoing important changes that are shaping health priorities, and the needs for disease prevention and care in the future. The trends identified in this report help us to anticipate some of the challenges that Europe is facing and will face in the future," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director forEurope. "But there are persistent and widespread inequities in health across the Region, which in some cases are worsening. These are unnecessary and unjust and must be a priority for us to address collectively."
Focus on well-being
The European health report 2012 focuses particularly on well-being, which forms an integral part of the new European health strategy, Health 2020, adopted by the 53 European Member States in September 2012. The WHO Constitution defines health as "not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" but "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being". For the first time in over 60 years, the WHO Regional Office for Europe aims to provide clarity in defining well-being, outline ways to measure it and develop a regional target and indicators on it by the end of 2013.
The report stresses that well-being and health are interactive and multidimensional concepts, with some common determinants, such as the health system. Ensuring a good life is not the domain of any one sector or service, but a multidimensional concept with multiple determinants. It requires an approach involving the whole of government and of society.
"All societies and cultures value well-being and health almost to the same degree. Well-being has been part of WHO's definition of health since the inception of the Organization over 60 years ago and it is high time that we and our partners and stakeholders track the progress of well-being, which is so inextricably linked to health," says Claudia Stein, Director of the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation at the Regional Office, who is responsible for the European health report 2012.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe has developed a roadmap to devise a new approach to measuring well-being that includes a collaborative agenda to collect, analyse and make use of health data Region-wide, along with a research agenda that improves the use of information to support policy-making to improve health and well-being.
(1) The European health report 2012: charting the way to well-being. Copenhagen, WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2013 (www.euro.who.int/european-health-report-2012, accessed 13 March 2013).