New United European Gastroenterology report reveals major health and economic impact of digestive diseases across Europe

11 October 2022

VIENNA -- Data from a new pan-European study on the burden of digestive diseases, presented today at UEG Week 2022 and published in the United European Gastroenterology Journal, highlights a worrying increase in the prevalence of several digestive diseases since 2000. These include chronic liver diseases, pancreatitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastritis, vascular intestinal disorders and coeliac disease in children. In addition, the incidence and mortality rates for all digestive cancers combined have increased by 26% and 17% respectively in the period 2000-2019.

The report identifies that digestive diseases affect over 300 million people across Europe and the Mediterranean area and that the associated economic costs are substantial. The incidence and prevalence of many digestive diseases are highest amongst the very young and the elderly and, as the European population ages, this disease burden will inevitably increase.

Age-standardised incidence and mortality are shown to have increased for liver and pancreatic cancer in most European countries since 2000, with alcohol use, obesity and other modifiable lifestyle factors identified as key contributors towards a large share of the overall burden of these digestive disorders.

Researchers observed increasing trends in digestive disease burden due to high body mass index across the continent. And, whilst some progress has been made to reduce alcohol attributable burden since the year 2000, alcohol use remains a major contributor to disease burden. One element of positive news to come out of the study is the decrease in health burden related to smoking across almost all European countries, following national intervention strategies.

In terms of the economic burden of digestive diseases, the UEG report finds that, on average, the estimated cost of inpatient health service delivery (excluding treatment and diagnostics) for digestive diseases as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 0.12% across the 31 countries included in the study. This translates to a potential cost across the EU of approximately $20 billion in 2021.

Luigi Ricciardiello, UEG Research Committee Chair, commented, "Stark health inequalities remain across Europe and, with emerging economic challenges, we expect these inequalities to be further exacerbated. Unfortunately, despite their substantial prevalence and global impact, many digestive diseases are still poorly understood and attract relatively little attention from either a policy or funding perspective". 

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