Despite spending more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, the US is at the same level as the lowest of any Western European country (Portugal for males and Denmark for females), while the rate for women is increasing at a much slower pace than Western Europe.
In 2007, life expectancy in the US was 78 years compared to 80 in the UK.
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Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, life expectancy has been rising in countries of central Europe such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
However, since this has been at a similar rate to Western Europe, the two halves of the Continent have been following "parallel trajectories" which makes the East-West gap "very difficult to eliminate".
Trends in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union have been less positive, with life expectancy going up and down dramatically over the past 25 years. This has been largely due to changes in hazardous drinking, among men in particular.
Compared with the UK, where in 2008 male life expectancy stood at 77.9 and female life expectancy stood at 82.0, Russian men could expect to live to 61.8 and women to 74.2, data from the World Health Organization and the Human Mortality Database reveals.
Describing it as "shocking" that life expectancy in Russia only returned in 2008 to the level it was 40 years previously, Prof Leon suggests the recent rising trend in life expectancy is down to a reduction in alcohol related deaths rather than by broader health improvements that characterise steadier increases in the rest of Europe.
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