Letters Challenge of ageing populations

Ageing alongside and outside EU borders

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4885 (Published 02 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4885
  1. Paul Kowal, scientist1,
  2. Sharon R Williams, assistant professor2,
  3. Somnath Chatterji, medical officer1
  1. 1WHO Multi-Country Studies Unit, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
  2. 2Department of Anthropology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2059, USA
  1. kowalp{at}who.int

The challenges and contributions of ageing populations extend beyond EU borders to low and middle income countries (LMICs), where most older people live.1 By 2031, those over 65 years will exceed one billion, with 71% in less developed countries.2 Ageing will become the next public health challenge globally, not just for the EU.

Keeping people healthy as life expectancy increases is a challenge anywhere. In 2007, WHO’s predicted mean healthy life expectancy in people aged 60 was 16.0 years in Europe, 10.6 years in Africa, 11.6 years in southeast Asia, and 16.4 years in the Americas.3 Regardless of location, if you reach 60, you have considerable time remaining in good health to contribute to family and community. The challenge is to maintain the good health of subsequent cohorts through interventions to improve diet and activity, decrease tobacco and harmful alcohol use, detect and manage chronic ageing related diseases early, and promote wellbeing.

All countries would benefit from speeding up the application of science to practice, mindful of the different starting point in lower income countries. The UN Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases will be an opportunity to highlight ageing as a major driver of this epidemic, and the need for a life course perspective if real gains are to be made.4 Recent data collection across LMICs has established baseline health levels, determinants, outcomes, and healthcare utilisation.5 Common methodologies allow valid cross national comparisons and should be coupled with enhanced training and retention of healthcare professionals. The innovative partnership in Europe on healthy ageing could be informed by evidence from outside the EU and could provide the impetus for similar efforts in LMICs.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4885


  • Competing interests: None declared.