The height affects the lifespan

Europe-wide comparison : Why do Germans have such a short life expectancy?

Germans have the lowest life expectancy among Western Europeans. Only the Eastern Europeans do worse. This is the finding of one of the largest health studies worldwide, the “Global Burden of Disease Study”, the results of which have now been published in the British journal “The Lancet”. For this purpose, all sources available worldwide on the death rate were compiled and more than 8,200 data from 195 countries were evaluated.

What exactly are the results of the study?

Viewed globally, life expectancy increased by almost 50 percent between 1950 and 2017. In Western Europe, the average life expectancy for newborns is now 79.5 years (male) and 84.2 years (female). According to the information, Germany is significantly lower at 78.2 and 83 years. Compared with all 22 Western European nations, Germans even bring up the rear when it comes to life expectancy for men. For women, only Great Britain and Denmark perform worse with 82.7 years. And viewed across both sexes, Germany is also in last place.

According to the study, men lived longest in Europe in Switzerland at 82.1 years and women in Spain at 85.8 years. In the category “Life expectancy for 60-year-olds at present”, Germany and Denmark bring up the rear in Western Europe. Men of this age in this country can still expect 21.6 years of age, women 25.1 years.

However, the numbers are particularly drastic for Eastern Europe. There, male newborns have an average life expectancy of only 66.5 years, while females have an average life expectancy of 77.2 years.

Why is it that Germans are not getting as old as other Western Europeans?

Above all because of their unhealthy lifestyle, says Pavel Grigoriev, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock. Compared to Mediterranean countries such as Spain or France, cardiovascular diseases are much more common in this country. This is particularly due to the diet. Mediterranean cuisine is not only based on many fish dishes, it also contains significantly more vegetables, salads, pulses and fruit. In Germany, on the other hand, high-calorie, fatty dishes dominate. In addition, there is a high consumption of tobacco and alcohol, a lack of exercise, and obesity.

Demography expert Sabine Sütterlin, who researched people's life expectancy at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, also emphasizes that Germans are fatter than the EU average. According to the statistics agency Eurostat, the proportion of obese adults in this country is 16.9 percent. The EU average is 15.9 percent. In Italy, the obese rate is just 10.7 percent. In Norway it is 13.1 percent and in the Netherlands 13.3 percent. Obesity is considered to be one of the biggest risk factors for premature death from heart attacks and strokes.

Health expert and SPD politician Karl Lauterbach believes that if Greeks or Spaniards were to eat the way the Germans did, their life expectancy would be very different. From the point of view of experts, there are also psychological factors such as life satisfaction, serenity - or hectic pace, everyday stress, stressful work life. But what about Northern Europe, the Benelux countries, the Scandinavian countries? Much more prevention and preventive medicine is practiced there, emphasizes Lauterbach. And the large gap between the wealthy and the poor also plays an important role in the lower life expectancy in this country. The significantly lower life expectancy of people in precarious circumstances pulls the entire cut down.

What role does the material situation play in life expectancy?

A very important one. In the euro zone, wealth is only more unevenly distributed in Lithuania than in the Federal Republic, reported the aid organization Oxfam, referring to a report by the European Central Bank. And according to a study by the Robert Koch Institute, men who live on the poverty line or below die in this country on average 10.8 years earlier than the wealthy. According to this, men who live in precarious circumstances have an average life expectancy of just 70.1 years, compared with 80.9 years for wealthy people. For women, the difference is around eight years - the poor come to 76.9 years, the wealthy to 85.3 years.

Experts cite the riskier health behavior of the materially disadvantaged as the main reason for the immense differences. These include a lack of exercise, poor nutrition, more alcohol and - above all - a far higher level of tobacco consumption. There is hardly any smoking in middle-class circles, says Lauterbach. In the lower classes, on the other hand, people were prone to health fatalism.

Indifference to one's own body explains the huge difference in life expectancy at most half, says the chairman of the Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband, Rolf Rosenbrock, to consider. From the point of view of the renowned health scientist, who sat on the Advisory Council for ten years to assess developments in the health care system, those on low incomes also die much earlier, "because the psychological pressure from the overall cramped living situation and mostly also poorer working conditions or unemployment has a negative impact on the own life and the possibilities of participation ”.

Are the East German states lowering the life expectancy of Germans?

That is undetectable. According to the Federal Statistical Office, male residents of Saxony-Anhalt have the lowest life expectancy nationwide with an average of 76.2 years. But second place is next to Thuringia and the city-state of Bremen at 77.2 years of age. And for women, it is not an East German state that comes off worst, but Saarland (82.2 years). Saxony, on the other hand, is one of the top places in terms of life expectancy for both genders in a nationwide comparison (77.8 and 83.8). The front runner is Baden-Württemberg with a life expectancy of 79.5 years for men and 84 years for women. Berlin comes to 78.1 and 83.2 years respectively.

The fact is, however, that this has not always been the case. Before the fall of the Wall, there was still a huge gap in life expectancy between East and West Germany. This was related to environmental pollution as well as to eating habits. At times the different access to medical progress was also essential. Since the 1970s, cardiovascular diseases suddenly became much easier to treat in the West. A leap in research that only really arrived in the east after the opening of the border.

The health system in this country is considered to be one of the best in the world. How does that fit together with the comparatively low life expectancy of Germans?

High health expenditure and a particularly high number of doctor contacts do not per se result in a high life expectancy. Americans do not get older on average than people in Cuba or Costa Rica - even though their country has the most expensive health system in the world. 17.1 percent of the gross domestic product flows into health there. The age record holder Japan (men 81.1 years; women 87.2 years) has a mere 10.2 percent. Incidentally, the claim that Germany has one of the best health systems in the world is more of a "political phrase" than reality, says Lauterbach. In some areas you are very good, but significantly less in others.

There are big differences in this country, for example in the supply in cities and in the country. The preventive medicine is miserable - especially with a view to the low-income. And especially in childhood, the most important risk factors are hardly combated: sugar consumption and lack of exercise. “We would need a completely different level of commitment.” Food policy must also change, says Lauterbach. In Germany, there are so far neither binding guidelines for reducing sugar, fat and salt in ready meals, nor is there a requirement for uniform nutritional labeling. Not to mention a sugar tax like the one in Great Britain. And Germany is now the only country in Europe where outdoor advertising for tobacco is still allowed.

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