Profound impact of smoking, alcohol and obesity on improvements in life expectancy

Fanny Janssen, Sergi Trias-Llimós and Anton Kunst

Smoking, alcohol misuse and behaviours that result in obesity (such as an unhealthy diet and insufficient physical activity) have strong negative effects on individual health. Because these health behaviours are very common among people in Europe, smoking, alcohol and obesity also largely influence mortality rates and life expectancy in Europe.

However, the impact of these three lifestyle factors on life expectancy is likely changing over time. Smoking, obesity and alcohol misuse, like true epidemics, tend to first become more common in a population, followed (eventually) by a decline in their prevalence and associated mortality.

This raises the question of how changes in smoking, obesity and alcohol use have influenced improvements in life expectancy over time. Answering this question is particularly relevant because of the recently observed stagnation in life expectancy improvements in some European countries.

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