The photo of large intestine is on the woman's body, isolate on white background, Female anatomy concept

Europe is currently failing to manage the increasing burden inflicted by chronic digestive diseases, according to leading digestive health experts.

A report, published today during the launch of MEP Digestive Health Group, reveals alarming issues, challenges and inequalities in a range of chronic digestive-related diseases, including digestive cancers, alcohol-related digestive diseases, paediatric digestive diseases and functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Upon reviewing the latest statistics from across the continent and canvassing the opinions of both policymakers and scientific experts, the report reveals:

59% of men and 45% of women in the EU aged 18 and above are overweight

Digestive cancers represent 28% of all cancer-related deaths in the EU (365,000 deaths)

One in four deaths from gastrointestinal diseases are directly attributed to alcohol

Inflammatory bowel disease diagnosis can commonly take up to five years

The five most common digestive cancers – colorectal, gastric, pancreatic, liver and oesophageal cancer – are responsible for over 590,000 cases each year in the EU. If current population trends continue, the number of deaths from these cancers across the EU per year will increase by over 40% by 2035. Approximately half of all cancers are preventable and their significant burden could be reduced by addressing lifestyle factors, such as rising levels of obesity and heavy alcohol consumption. Obesity, for example, is quickly overtaking tobacco as a health risk and is the leading preventable cause of cancer and substantially threatens the sustainability of public healthcare systems.

In addition to the threat posed from digestive cancers and obesity, experts are also warning of the socioeconomic burden inflicted by functional GI disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation. Functional GI disorders are common conditions that can be extremely disabling for patients, yet sufferers often do not consult their physician about their symptoms. They are associated with educational and occupational absenteeism, imposing high costs to society, and are expensive to treat and manage. Treating IBS in Germany alone, for example, is estimated to cost over € 3.2 billion per year.

Professor Markus Peck, of United European Gastroenterology, which represents over 22,000 digestive health specialists, comments, “The impact inflicted by digestive diseases continues to increase across Europe. With chronic digestive diseases, our society fails and the burden is only going to become greater. We’re seeing notable increases in the incidence of most gastrointestinal disorders, from digestive cancers to liver disease. The current outlook for young people’s health, for example, is extremely alarming, with childhood obesity rates expected to almost double by 2025.”

Current predictions, trends and attitudes demonstrate that the challenge presented by obesity, heavy alcohol consumption and poor nutritional choices is increasing and urgent action is required to reduce this burden and improve health outcomes in generations to come.

To address this difficult challenge, policymakers and digestive health experts will meet today in the European Parliament to inaugurate the MEP Digestive Health Group. The group’s overarching mission is to ensure that continually improving digestive health becomes and remains an integral part of the EU health agenda, serving as a platform of exchange between the scientific community and policymakers.

“Rising obesity levels, functional GI-disorders and heavy alcohol consumption across Europe have major implications for future healthcare provision and it is essential that these largely preventable issues are tackled through health policy and action” adds Professor Peck. “United European Gastroenterology welcome the MEP Digestive Health Group and look forward to close collaboration in achieving the mission of tackling the burden of chronic digestive diseases across Europe.”