Background: Life expectancy is increasing in Europe, yet a substantial proportion of adults still die prematurely before the age of 70 years. We sought to estimate the joint and relative contributions of tobacco smoking, hypertension, obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol and poor diet towards risk of premature death.
Methods: We analysed data from 264,906 European adults from the EPIC prospective cohort study, aged between 40 and 70 years at the time of recruitment. Flexible parametric survival models were used to model risk of death conditional on risk factors, and survival functions and attributable fractions (AF) for deaths prior to age 70 years were calculated based on the fitted models.
Results: We identified 11,930 deaths which occurred before the age of 70. The AF for premature mortality for smoking was 31 % (95 % confidence interval (CI), 31-32 %) and 14 % (95 % CI, 12-16 %) for poor diet. Important contributions were also observed for overweight and obesity measured by waist-hip ratio (10 %; 95 % CI, 8-12 %) and high blood pressure (9 %; 95 % CI, 7-11 %). AFs for physical inactivity and excessive alcohol intake were 7 % and 4 %, respectively. Collectively, the AF for all six risk factors was 57 % (95 % CI, 55-59 %), being 35 % (95 % CI, 32-37 %) among never smokers and 74 % (95 % CI, 73-75 %) among current smokers.
Conclusions: While smoking remains the predominant risk factor for premature death in Europe, poor diet, overweight and obesity, hypertension, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption also contribute substantially. Any attempt to minimise premature deaths will ultimately require all six factors to be addressed.
Keywords: Absolute risk; Attributable fraction; Modifiable risk factors; Mortality; Premature death.