Czechs can expect to live longer, but not in good health

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

As elsewhere in the developed world, the average life expectancy for Czech men and women has been growing, but the sad news is that they are not spending their old age in good health. The Czech Health Ministry is ringing alarm bells and focussing on campaigns that will raise awareness of the health risks responsible for serious illnesses in the aging population.

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
Czech men can expect to live for 76 years on average, but the last 15 years of their lives will involve tackling serious health problems, which arrive soon after they turn 60. Women have an even higher life expectancy -on average 82 years of age – but, like their male counterparts, they will spend a lot of their old age in doctor’s waiting rooms. While the average life expectancy of the population is growing, the healthy life expectancy has not budged for half a century. So what are Czechs doing wrong? Deputy Health Minister Alena Šteflová says they only have themselves to blame.

“The main problems are cardio-vascular diseases, oncological illnesses, respiratory problems, diabetes and health problems linked to obesity. All of these illnesses are linked to lifestyle - poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking.”

A comparative health survey covering the past fifty years shows that while Sweden has raised the healthy life expectancy of its population by nine years, the Czech Republic has only managed to increase the life expectancy of an ailing population.

The Health Ministry says this is linked to high-risk factors such as smoking, drinking and fatty foods that are typical of the Czech national cuisine. The majority of Czechs don’t eat enough vegetables, don’t drink enough non-alcoholic beverages, and don’t move enough. The high tolerance for smoking and the nation’s love of beer all contribute to serious health problems in the over 60 age bracket. Surveys show that although Czechs put good-health at the top of the ladder of values they do very little to promote it. Sixty percent of the population is overweight and 30 percent is obese. Moreover few people bother about prevention. Alena Šteflová again:

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
“The Czech health system offers a wide range of screening programs but people simply don’t make use of the opportunities afforded. They do very little in terms of prevention. That is something that we want to change. We need campaigns that will not only reach the public but bring about a change of attitude. I think we need to have a broad debate on the subject and are only beginning to address the issue properly now.“

In view of the country’s aging population the degree to which sickness is linked to old-age is alarming. The ministry is now working not only on the problem of increased health awareness among Czechs, but scrambling to meet the needs of the population on a practical level.