Britain 14th in health league

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED Kingdom ranks a sickly 14th in Europe's new table of the healthiest countries, beaten not only by the Nordic countries but by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece and Slovenia.

High rates of death from cancer and respiratory disease, as well as above- average numbers of Aids cases, mean Britain is ranked nearly halfway down the table.

Sweden and Norway emerge as the healthiest nations in Europe, while Russia, Latvia and Ukraine are at the bottom of the list compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The unit looked at 14 key health indicators in compiling its report, Health Care Europe, including death rate, life expectancy, childhood mortality, immunisation coverage, number of Aids cases, death rates from cancer, heart and respiratory diseases and smoking.

One of the reasons for the UK's low ranking is unhealthy eating, said the editor of the report, Alexandra Wyke. "We tend to eat a lot more processed food than other countries. But the second reason is the huge and growing disparity between the health of the rich and the poor, despite a national health service. It cannot be explained exclusively by people turning to private healthcare, as that is still a very small percentage."

The UK fares well in indicators such as life expectancy, where it is ranked 8th, but it is 21st when it comes to cancer death rates and only 15th for its immunisation coverage.

The Nordic countries do well because their small populations makes healthcare easier to manage. Mediterranean countries are high on the list because of their healthy diets.

But more surprisingly, countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia also do better than the UK because of good immunisation programmes and lower rates of cancer.

Germany, despite being the biggest spender on healthcare in Europe, comes 16th in the table, mainly because of problems since reunification.