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One quarter of the European Union's 500 million people are undergoing long term treatment for illnesses ranging from hypertension and arthritis to ulcers and cataracts.
The findings, released last week, are the result of a survey carried out for the European Commission in September and October 2006 into the health of citizens in the 27 EU member states and Croatia.
The commonest long term treatment is for high blood pressure (36% of those being treated), which is particularly prevalent in central and eastern Europe. In Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece it accounts for at least half of people receiving a long term treatment, while the lowest levels of hypertension are to be found in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
Long standing problems with muscles, bones, and joints are the second most common type of ailment, accounting for 24% of those receiving treatment. Next are diabetes (15%), depression (10%), asthma (9%), osteoporosis (8%), allergies (6%), migraines (5%), cancer (4%), chronic bronchitis (4%), strokes (4%), peptic ulcers (3%) and cataracts (2%).
Allergies are prominent among Swedes (34% of whom have experienced them), while muscle, bone, and joint problems are common in Hungary (33%) and Belgium (31%). The prevalence in France of chronic depression, at 9%, is twice the EU average.
Since the question was asked previously, three years earlier, there has been a significant increase in the number of people receiving long term treatment in Austria (up 5%) and notable decreases in Denmark and the Netherlands (both down by 11%) and Italy (down 5%).
Yet the survey also found that 24% of those questioned consider their health to be “very good” and a further 49% “good.” The positive assessments are highest in Ireland (89% of respondents), Denmark and the Netherlands (82%), and Greece, Luxembourg, and Sweden (80%). The percentage in the UK giving a positive assessment (77%) is slightly above the EU average, while Estonians (51%), Latvians (50%), and Lithuanians (44%) are the most negative about their general state of health.
The survey also investigated the extent to which people had health check-ups. While 38% of respondents had undergone radiography, ultrasonography, or other scans in the previous 12 months, only 13% of European men had taken the prostate specific antigen test (the figure in the UK was just 4%), and only 8% of men had been tested for colorectal cancer. A different picture emerges for women: 43% have had a breast examination by hand, 41% a cervical smear test, 31% a mammography, and 30% an ovary examination.
Commenting on the findings, Markos Kyprianou, the EU's health commissioner, urged men to consult their doctors about regular screenings for prostate and colorectal cancer. He announced that he would table a policy paper on cancer next year setting out possible incentives that governments could consider to increase screening.
The Eurobarometer special report Health in the European Union is available at www.ec.europa.eu/health.