Population health in European comparison

European-wide comparable health data are essential for the development of evidence-based measures that can be used to address health challenges. They are also useful for identifying best practices for intervention approaches. Lothar H. Wieler, president of the RKI, emphasises that ‘These data are intended to contribute towards further improving people’s health.’ The European Health Interview Survey focuses on noncommunicable diseases.

In the current issue of the Journal of Health Monitoring, the RKI researchers analysed four main topics: 1) limitations in activities of daily living in old age, e. g. eating and personal hygiene; 2) the influence of main social roles in middle adulthood (partnership, parenthood and employment) on self-rated health; 3) educational differences in health behaviour, and 4) the prevalence of depressive symptoms. EHIS 2 allowed for the first time to compare the prevalence of depressive symptoms throughout adulthood. The survey demonstrates that younger people in Germany report depressive symptoms more frequently (11.5% vs 5.2%) and older people less frequently (6.7% vs 9.1%) than the EU average.

The European Health Interview Survey is conducted every six years and has been mandatory throughout the EU since wave 2. In Germany, the survey forms part of the health monitoring undertaken at the RKI, and it is integrated into the German Health Update (GEDA 2014/2015-EHIS). In Germany, nearly 25,000 people were surveyed online or in writing.

The RKI has gained many years of expertise in health monitoring at the national level, and the institute’s German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS) was unique in Europe when the 2006 baseline study was conducted. The researchers of the RKI health monitoring were also substantially involved in the development and implementation of the European core health indicator set as well as in the conception and implementation of EHIS. Currently, the RKI partners with the European Joint Action on Health Information. The network aims to establish a European-wide health information system with a focus on noncommunicable diseases. The EU still lacks a sustainable structure or institution with the competence for noncommunicable diseases and their determinants, such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control with respect to infectious diseases.

Noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular conditions, cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases are the leading causes of death in Germany and throughout the world. Importantly, risk factors such as smoking, low physical activity, harmful alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets can often be avoided. As such, Wieler stresses that ‘Approaches to prevention must take the individual, the environment as well as the current health policy framework into account.’ The RKI is presently expanding health monitoring of noncommunicable diseases. The recent establishment of a national diabetes surveillance is used as a model for additional noncommunicable diseases.

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