(Photo: Bernd Wüstneck/DPA/PIXSELL) (Photo: Bernd Wüstneck/DPA/PIXSELL)

Life expectancy at birth in Croatia has increased by 3.4 years between 2000 and 2017, from 74.6 to 78 years, but the gap with the EU average has remained nearly unchanged, 2.9 years, according to Croatia’s Country Health Profile.

Croatia's report, presented on Friday at the Andrija Štampar Public Health Institute in Zagreb, states that one of the reasons for this gap is ineffective public health policies, particularly those related to smoking and that fact that indoor smoking in public places is still widespread, while teen smoking rates are among the highest in Europe.

Obesity rates, particularly among children, are also rising, according to the report. The rate of obesity in Croatia is 18%, compared to 15% in the EU.

The shorter life expectancy among elderly Croatians is the consequence of behavioral risk factors, particularly poor diet and smoking. Other leading risk factors related to death include alcohol consumption and low physical activity. Slightly more than half of all deaths in Croatia can be attributed to behavioral risk factors, according to the report.

When it comes to vaccination, the rate for measles vaccination in Croatia is only one percentage point below the EU average, 93%. Flu shots are still far from the norm, with only 21% of the population getting the jab annually in comparison to 44% of the rest of the EU.

Croatia spent 6.8 % of its GDP on health care in 2017, much less than the EU average of 9.8 %. Although it is also among the three EU member states that spend the least on health care per capita, Croatia has maintained a relatively high share of public spending, resulting in high levels of financial protection. However, relatively high public debt still constrains spending on public health.

Furthermore, a large share of health care funding is spent on drugs, far exceeding the EU average. Croatia is trying to change this by developing a centralized procurement system for hospitals, but the country can still do more by, for example, increasing the share of generics drugs used in treatment. In contrast, a very small share of health expenditure is spent on long-term care, which is generally underdeveloped.