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European life span 'on the rise'

A study of trends over the last 40 years has suggested that life expectancy in Europe is increasing despite the obesity epidemic, with people in Britain living longer than their American counterparts.

The research, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, appears to ease fears that health problems related to obesity might curb life expectancy rises in high income countries.

David Leon, a London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine epidemiologist and population health expert, concluded that most European countries have been going in a "positive direction" in the last five years for the first time in decades, but he conceded that the gap between East and West remains consistent.

He 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."

Professor Leon said cardiovascular-related deaths 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".

In 2007, the average American lived until 78, while the average Briton lived for two year longer to 80. According to data from the World Health Organization and the Human Mortality Database, life expectancy for British males was 77.9 in 2008, while female life expectancy was 82. Russian men could expect to live to 61.8 and women to 74.2.

Copyright © Press Association 2011

International Journal of Epidemiology