Greece’s failure to adopt an effective illness prevention program, combined with unhealthy eating practices and high rates of smoking among others, have led to the life expectancy of Greeks to slide down the European scale over the last 10 years, according to a study released yesterday. Researchers from Athens University’s Medical School highlighted that Greece had slipped from second place on the European Union’s life expectancy list in 1997 to 11th last year, largely because little has been done in that time to combat serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. This has been combined with a rapid drop in physical exercise, a drift away from the traditional Mediterranean diet and an increase in unhealthy habits such as smoking. The report was presented by associate professor Yiannis Tountas, who said that in the period studied the average Greek’s life expectancy had only increased by 1.7 years, whereas in most West European countries the figure had increased by about twice as much. The biggest killers in Greece are blood circulation illnesses (48 percent), cancer (25 percent), breathing problems (7 percent) and accidents (5 percent). The rate of deaths from heart disease in Greece has dropped over the last 20 years but nowhere near as much as in most other EU countries. In Greece it fell by almost 11 percent over the last two decades but the EU average was 35.7 percent. Greece is still just below the EU average for deaths from cancer (162 per 100,000 people) but has lost ground to other European countries in recent years. «The difference that our country had in this area is narrowing because other European countries are gradually reducing deaths from cancer thanks to prevention programs and regular checks,» said Tountas. «This means that we have not managed to make any headway regarding the health of Greeks despite the plethora of preventive measures that exist and the knowledge that we have gathered.» Tountas added that almost six in 10 Greeks are overweight – one of the worst figures in the EU – and that a third of men and almost 45 percent of woman in Greece admit that they do not exercise at all. Greeks also consume just under half of the amount of fruit, vegetables and cereals recommended for a healthy lifestyle. They also only eat a quarter of the recommended allowance of pulses and nuts, while youngsters in particular eat more sweets than they should. Greeks also rank as the second-biggest smokers in the EU after Cypriots, according to the report. About half of Greek men and three in 10 women smoke regularly.