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Durham University

Durham University News



European Health Championship shines light on stark health inequalities

(25 May 2016)

An analysis of life expectancy of men in the countries taking part in UEFA Euro 2016 shows huge health divides between the wealthy countries of Europe, and clearly demonstrates that where you live can kill you.

England would get knocked out in the quarter finals of UEFA Euro 2016 if the tournament was based on how healthy each nation is.

Switzerland would walk away as European Champions for the first time in the competition’s history, narrowly beating Iceland on penalties in the final.

Where you live can kill you

The Durham University analysis of life expectancy of men in the countries taking part in the football tournament shows huge health divides between the wealthy countries of Europe, and clearly demonstrates that where you live can kill you.

The researchers are calling on governments across Europe to learn from each other and share best practice to narrow the gap.

The inequalities in health across Europe can be examined through the concept of a European Health Championship which has been created by researchers from Durham University’s Centre for Health and Inequalities Research(CHIR) as an accessible way to shed light on these stark differences.

Winners and losers

From the round of 16 onwards, the European Health Championship scores each nation’s football team based on the country’s male life expectancy at birth for 2013. From these scores, the winners and losers of each group are decided as well as the results of the games in the knock out stages.

England, with a male life expectancy of 79 years, would be winners of their group by beating Russia (63 years), Slovakia (72 years) and Wales (78 years), but losing to Iceland (81 years) in the quarter finals.

Looking at wider health figures, the UK has the worst overall mortality rate and the highest prevalence of obesity amongst women amongst western European countries.

Switzerland would comfortably win their group by beating France (79 years), Albania (73 years) and Romania (71 years). Men in Switzerland and Iceland are on average expected to live up to the age of 81, but with female life expectancy slightly higher in Switzerland than in Iceland, Switzerland would secure a narrow victory in the final.

The scores also reveal a clear east-west gap with worse health in eastern European countries compared to those in the west, with a gap of 10 years in life expectancy between Switzerland and Romania.

Health gap in Europe

The underlying research on health inequalities is part of an international project led by Durham University, called HiNews, which is aiming to find out why these inequalities persist in European countries and what can be done to reduce them. It also features in a new book by lead researcher, Professor Clare Bambra, called ‘Health divides: where you live can kill you’, due to be published in August 2016.

Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health Geography and Director of the Centre for Health and Inequalities Research at Durham University, said: “What this analysis shows is that where you live can kill you but what is more important is that places can be changed for the better through the decisions made at local, regional and national level within countries. The factors influencing the health of people and places are politically determined.

“States across Europe should learn from each other, invest in the geographical areas where it is most needed, and show commitment to tackling these ‘life and death’ inequalities.

“I hope that by using football we can help to highlight these unacceptable differences in health, between European countries as well as those within them.”

HiNews is funded by New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Co-operation in Europe (NORFACE) which is a partnership of European research councils including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Caroline Costongs, Managing Director at EuroHealthNet, commented: “This European Health Championship clearly demonstrates that we can only win by protecting and promoting the health of all. In order to be competitive in football, or more generally in any endeavor in Europe, we need to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone and to not leave any people behind.

“Strong and resilient teams do better and evidence tells us that investing in the reduction of inequalities pays off. EuroHealthNet, as the leading European Partnership in this area, is at center field exchanging and supporting policies and actions to improve health, equity and wellbeing at EU level as well as within countries.”

Data was taken from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).