Life expectancy growing faster in Ireland than in rest of Europe

Ireland still ranking highly for obesity and alcoholism

Life expectancy is growing faster in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe and Irish people have the highest levels of satisfaction with their own health, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This is in spite of the fact that we are still near the top of the rankings for alcohol use and obesity, have above average rates of cancer and have one of the lowest numbers of doctors and hospital beds.

We claim to be the biggest vegetable eaters in Europe and rank third for fruit consumption after Italy and Malta - where the produce is likely to be somewhat tastier.

The OECD’s Health at a Glance publication says life expectancy has increased across the continent since 1990, but Ireland has shown the biggest gain, with an increase of 4.4 years. The life expectancy of an Irish man is now 78.7 years, while for women it is 83.2 years.

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One contributory factor is the reduction in road traffic deaths, where mortality has fallen by over 60 per cent in the last decade. Only the UK and Sweden record fewer deaths on the road.

Previous surveys

In line with the result of previous surveys, Irish people rate their health more positively than anyone else in Europe. Some 83 per cent of us describe our health as good or very good, and only 17 per cent report suffering a limitation in normal activity, the third lowest level among the countries surveyed.

Yet we rank fourth for the incidence of all cancers, third for prostate cancer and sixth for breast cancer.

Alcohol consumption, at 11.6 litres per person per year, puts us fifth on the list, while cocaine use among Irish 15-34 year-olds ranks third. Ireland ranks third in Europe for adult obesity levels, behind the UK and Hungary.

The OECD says Ireland has the fourth lowest level of practising doctors yet the third highest number of nurses, although differences in the way countries compile data make comparisons difficult. Only two other countries have fewer hospital beds per head of population.

Ireland is one of only three countries where health expenditure has fallen, but at 3.7 per cent this is still a long way short of the almost 10 per cent drop recorded in Greece.

The report says we spend an average of €500 a year on medicines, 40 per cent higher than than the average.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times