The potential for reducing differences in life expectancy between educational groups in five European countries: the effects of obesity, physical inactivity and smoking

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This study assesses the effects of obesity, physical inactivity and smoking on life expectancy (LE) differences between educational groups in five European countries in the early 2000s.


We estimate the contribution of risk factors on LE differences between educational groups using the observed risk factor distributions and under a hypothetically more optimal risk factor distribution. Data on risk factor prevalence were obtained from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe study, and data on mortality from census-linked data sets for the age between 50 and 79 according to sex and education.


Substantial differences in LE of up to 2.8 years emerged between men with a low and a high level of education in Denmark, Austria and France, and smaller differences among men in Italy and Spain. The educational differences in LE were not as large among women. The largest potential for reducing educational differences was in Denmark (25% among men and 41% among women) and Italy (14% among men).


The magnitude of the effect of unhealthy behaviours on educational differences in LE varied between countries. LE among those with a low or medium level of education could increase in some European countries if the behavioural risk factor distributions were similar to those observed among the highly educated.

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