As the English nation holds its breath ahead of tonight’s clash against Iceland, author and ESRC-funded academic Clare Bambra explains why, if it were down to health stats, we wouldn’t get through against the boys in blue.
Iceland will beat England in Euro 2016 tonight
England will get knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland tonight and Iceland will in fact go all the way to the final!… well that’s if the tournament follows how healthy each nation is. Based on health statistics, Switzerland who were knocked out on Saturday would have actually walked away as European Champions for the first time in the competition’s history – narrowly beating Iceland on penalties at Stade de France on Sunday 10 July.
Our analysis of differences in life expectancy for men in the 24 countries taking part in the forthcoming football tournament shows huge health divides across Europe and highlights the links between where you live and how long you live.
The European Health Championship is an accessible way to shed light on these stark differences. It scores each nation’s football team based on the country’s male life expectancy at birth for 2013. From these scores, the winners and losers of each group are decided as well as the results of the games in the knock out stages.
England, with a male life expectancy of 79 years, would have been winners of their group by beating Russia (63 years), Slovakia (72 years) and Wales (78 years). England would then have been playing Czech Republic, who they would have beat (75 years) in the round of 16 knockout stage.
They then would have faced tonight’s opponents, Iceland (81 years), in the quarter-finals and would lose.
The fortunes of Wales and Northern Ireland have been mixed in the last 16, however with a male life expectancy of 78 years each, they would have each been beaten by Austria and France (79 years each).
The winners of the competition would have been Switzerland, who are already on the plane home. This is because Switzerland and Iceland both have a male life expectancy of 81 years, yet Switzerland has a female life expectancy of 85 compared to Iceland’s 84, so we’ll call that a penalty shoot-out victory!
The European Health Championship also reveals a clear east-west gap with worse health in the countries of Eastern Europe compared to those in the West. For example, in the host country France (the runners-up in group A), baby boys are expected to live up to 79 years old whilst in Ukraine, who finish bottom of group C, it is just 66 and in Russia (bottom of group B) it is a mere 63 years. And our league table actually called this correct with both Ukraine and Russia finishing bottom.
Spain and Italy, who face each other tonight at 5pm, also fare well with men expected to live up to 80 in those countries. So that’ll have to be a flip of a coin!
But what explains these differences in health across European countries? Why do some countries perform so much better in health terms than others? Geographical research suggests that the answer is twofold: the health of places is determined by the population composition (who lives here) and the environmental context (where you live).
Who lives here? The demographic, health behaviours and socio-economic profile of the people within a place influences its health outcomes. Generally speaking, health deteriorates with age, women live longer than men, and health status also varies by ethnicity. Levels of smoking, alcohol, physical activity, diet, and drugs – all influence the health of populations significantly. Indeed, research has strongly linked Russia’s comparatively low life expectancy amongst men with the high levels of alcohol consumption in the country particularly since the collapse of communism. The socio-economic status – or social class in “old money” – of people living in a country also matters as those with higher occupational status (eg professionals such as teachers or lawyers) have better health outcomes than non-professional workers (eg manual workers). So differences in the characteristics of people in the countries of Europe will contribute to these country level differences in life expectancy.
However, research also shows that where you live matters. The economic environment of a country, such as poverty rates, unemployment rates, or wage levels can influence health. Countries with lower poverty rates, for example Switzerland or Iceland, do better than countries with higher poverty rates such as England. The social environment, including the services provided within a country to support people in their daily lives such as child care or health care and welfare, can also impact on population level health. The physical environment is also important determinant with research suggesting that proximity to waste facilities and brownfield or contaminated land, as well as levels of air pollution can negatively affect health. So countries with worse economic, social or physical environments will have worse health outcomes.
These links between health and place are explored further in my forthcoming book Health Divides: where you live can kill you which can be pre-ordered now. Reducing health inequalities between and within the countries of Europe is also the focus of HiNEWS, an international project led by the Department of Geography at Durham University.