The European Institute of Women’s Health is to be congratulated on the publication of Women in Europe – Towards Healthy Ageing: A Review of the Health Status of Mid-life and Older Women. Its publication follows closely on the European Commission’s own report on the demographic situation in the European Union.

The review performs a valuable function. European demographic trends point to an increasingly aged population, especially of women. The number of people over 60 years of age will rise from just over 76 million in 1995 to a projected figure of almost 114 million in 2025. During this same period the number of people under 20 years of age will fall by 11 %. These trends have major implications not only for the cost of health services but also for the facilities and
services which will be required in the future. The European Institute of Women’s Health rightly points out that planning will result in actions to minimise the adverse effects on women. However, I believe that their view, while focused on older women, contains lessons for all: young and old, male and female, health professionals and patients. We need to be giving consideration right now to the issues which it raises. These issues include a major emphasis on the need for health promotion and education measures. I could not agree more. The fact is that a great number of the major illnesses which afflict European citizens are lifestyle-related. Measures to educate our
citizens on risk avoidance, on better diet, and on the benefits of physical and mental fitness can all play a major part in improving both life expectancy and the quality of life. Moreover, these measures can often be implemented more effectively and at lower cost than more expensive and invasive medical treatments. It may be a cliche but in this respect prevention is better than cure!

In each of the four health areas covered by the review – coronary heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and depression – health promotion and prevention have a major role to play in mitigating the impact. Older women would benefit from reading the review’s findings in these areas. As the review points out, they could also pass on the lessons to a wider audience, including their own children and people in their care.

I hope that the review is circulated widely, It deserves to be read by as many people as possible and especially by women themselves. The European Commission, for its part, recognises that the health needs of women merit special consideration. In its forthcoming report on Health Status in the European Union, the Commission will, therefore, be including a specific chapter on this subject.

Padraig Flynn
Member of the European Commission

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