Background: The objective of this paper is to provide analytical research that supported the European Commission in setting the global target of additional two healthy life years (HLY) at birth by 2020 in the EU on average, within the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (the EIP on AHA). It produces a straightforward analysis of HLY projections that helped the European Commission set a firm, politically sound, target. In order to reach that goal, policy makers need to commit to redefining health priorities and goals and developing and implementing relevant strategies and programmes.
Methods: The study computes a simple simulation of the HLY at birth based on three demographic scenarios: compression of morbidity, expansion of morbidity and an intermediary scenario, the dynamic equilibrium, given the expected 2.1 year gain in male and 1.6 in female life expectancy (LE) by 2020. Data on HLY and projections of life expectancy were obtained from Eurostat and 2008 was taken as a baseline. For consistency and given data gaps, EU27 average values of HLY were calculated.
Results: In the EU27 as a whole, the difference between LE and HLY in 2008 was nearly 15 years for men and 20 years for women. The developments of healthy life expectancies across the EU Member States (MSs) are even more diverse that makes it difficult to model any robust EU level trends.Under compression of morbidity, life expectancy and HLY would increase by 2020 on average by 2.1 and 2.0 years for men and by 1.6 and 1.4 years for women respectively. The expected years with disability would remain unchanged while the HLY/LE ratio would improve leading to a 0.5% gain for both genders. Under expansion of morbidity, life expectancy would increase by 2.1 years for men and 1.4 years for women by 2020, while HLY would remain unchanged and the expected years with disability would increase by 2.1 years and 1.6 years in women. This would imply the deterioration of the HLY/LE ratio for both men and women generating a 2.2% and 1.4% loss of health for men and women accordingly. Under dynamic equilibrium, the HLY would increase but to a lesser extent as the rise in life expectancy. The HLY would increase by 1.6 and 1.2 years for men and women respectively. HLY/LE ratio would remain unchanged for both men (+0.1%) and women. The study shows that the first scenario would reduce the HLY gap between the EU MSs by 1.4 years in men and 1.2 years in women, the second would generate no change, while the third one would reduce the gap by 0.9 years in men and increase it by 0.7 years in women.
Conclusions: The results of the study triggered the political decision of setting the global target of 2 additional HLY for the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing to be achieved by 2020. It is a 'grand' goal but can be achieved. Statistics clearly show that EU countries characterise very different levels of health progress, with a gap of 2 decades and diverging trends. With this in mind, the EU HLY target should be complemented by national HLY targets for men and women, set by MSs.