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European life expectancy increasing

Life expectancy in Europe is increasing despite the obesity epidemic, with people in Britain living longer than those in the US, an analysis of trends over the last 40 years suggests.

The findings published in the International Journal of Epidemiology appear to mitigate concerns that rising life expectancy in high income countries may falter in the face of obesity-related health problems.

Epidemiologist and population health expert Professor David Leon, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, concluded that in the last five years, most European countries have been going in a "positive direction" for the first time in decades - although the gap between East and West remains entrenched.

Professor Leon said: "Despite what many may have assumed, and without being complacent, current trends in European life expectancy are in a positive direction.

"But while the European experience since 1980 underlines the centrality of the social, political and economic determinants of health, many intriguing and important questions remain unanswered about the drivers of these extraordinary trends."

He added deaths from cardiovascular disease in the UK had seen "some of the largest and most rapid falls of any Western European country, partly due to improvements in treatment as well as reductions in smoking and other risk factors".

Meanwhile, the US was at the same level as the lowest of any Western European country (Portugal for males and Denmark for females), despite spending more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, with the rate for women increasing at a much slower pace than Western Europe.

In 2007, average life expectancy in the US was 78 years compared to 80 in the UK.

In 2008, British male life expectancy stood at 77.9 and female life expectancy stood at 82.0, while Russian men could expect to live to 61.8 and women to 74.2, data from the World Health Organisation and the Human Mortality Database revealed.

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