This month, EAP and Young EAP are honoured to have the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, authoring a special blog article on the future of child health in Europe.
We thank Commissioner Andriukaitis for this unique opportunity, and for the very inspiring September webinar with Young EAP in September, which can be watched in full here.
Europe provides a safe environment for our children. According to Eurostat, 95% of children in the European Union in 2017 were in ‘good’ or ‘very good’ health – with the remaining 5% facing health problems.
While these numbers make encouraging reading, there is more we can do.
MAIN CHILD HEALTH CHALLENGES IN EUROPE
A major obstacle to childhood health is obesity. Poor lifestyles and diets, lack of physical activity, as well as socioeconomic factors are the root causes of this problem. Since the 1980s, its prevalence has more than tripled in many European countries. This alarming trend is not helped by the knowledge that physical activity tends to decrease between the ages of 11 to 15 in most European countries.
Social exclusion is another factor that influences child health. Living in deprived and remote areas – with limited access to basic services such as healthcare and social services facilities – are aspects of poverty that may represent key factors in social exclusion. As of 2016, more than half (57%) of young people still felt marginalised. Within the EU, the highest levels were reported in countries that have battled severe recession. In addition, socioeconomic status has a strong impact on young people’s risk of depression.
Adolescents’ heavy alcohol consumption also remains an issue, with nearly 2 out of 5 reporting at least one ‘binge drinking’ event in the past month. While smoking rates have decreased somewhat in the EU since 2007, the trend of illicit drug use has remained stable in this age group.
Rare diseases such as rare cancers, adversely affect mainly children: 75% of rare diseases affect children, while 30% of rare-disease patients die before the age of five. These figures are stark and demand vigilance.
Disinformation also has a detrimental effect on children health. Coverage for key childhood vaccines has been declining recently, with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles on the rise (almost tripled worldwide in the last year). The spread of false information – on social media in particular – is playing its role in putting our children’s health at risk.