What has happened to the suicide rate in Europe in the past 20 years?

  • A. It decreased by a third
  • B. It stayed about the same
  • C. It increased by a third

Correct answer

The rate of suicides in Europe has dropped from 21.2 per 100,000 people in 1997 to 15.5 per 100,000 people in 2017—a decrease of more than a third. Data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show that suicide rates in Europe peaked in 1994 (after the fall of the Soviet Union) and that there has been a near continuous decline since then. The main reason the rate has improved is the economic development and stabilization in former Soviet countries, as well as the introduction of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—a form of antidepressant — in the 90s.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation: https://gapm.io/xihme

When fewer people commit suicide, nobody notices

A massive 90% of our respondents got this question wrong, with the majority opting for the most negative option. Thankfully, our respondents’ answers are not a reflection of reality, as the rate of suicides in Europe has actually been decreasing for many years! The chimps were much more positive than our human respondents, and consequently scored a higher proportion of correct answers.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that things are getting worse! It’s not a surprise that most people chose the most negative option… or that hardly anybody got this question right. Many of us fall into the trap of believing that things are getting worse, so a rise in suicide rates would be the only logical conclusion.

But everything isn’t getting worse. In fact, most things are getting better. And that includes a significant fall in the rate of suicides in Europe over the last 25 years. Mental health and suicides have received a lot of attention in the media, which almost always highlights the exceptions. After all, when was the last time you heard about somebody NOT committing suicide? There has also been a lot of coverage of the increasing rate of suicides in the United States — which is true, but still an exception to the situation globally.

Now of course, suicide is something that needs attention, and even though it has become more uncommon in most European countries in the past 20 years, it is still far too common for us to relax. It has tragic consequences for all those around, friends and family, and when attention is given it needs to be done with compassion and knowledge about the subject.

However, if we are unaware of that suicide is actually becoming less common, we could easily come to believe that the measures being taken to prevent suicide don’t work — worse, that they don’t matter. Clearly, this is not true. We can and must continue suicide-preventive work. It makes a difference. It saves lives.

What is the life expectancy of a baby born today in Europe?

  • A. 78
  • B. 82
  • C. 86

Correct answer

The life expectancy of a baby born in Europe in 2016 is 77.5 years. Turkmenistan has the lowest life expectancy at birth, at 68.2 years, while Spain the highest at 83.3 years.

82 would be the correct answer for countries like Luxembourg, Iceland, Austria, and Israel, but at the moment not a single country in Europe has a life expectancy at birth of 86 years. However, when it comes to living long lives, women by far outdo men. On average, women in France, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland actually do live to 86.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization: https://gapm.io/xwhol

Lives in Eastern Europe are shorter than Western Europeans think

Our human respondents didn’t do quite so badly on this question, but they still scored worse than random: 30% managed to answer correctly. Germany had the lowest score for this question at 25% correct answers. France came in second with 32%, while only the United Kingdom managed to match the chimps with 33% of respondents answering correctly.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that what they see in their country is true for all of Europe… Life expectancy has been on a nearly continuous upward path since the late 19th Century—a fact that most people in Europe are aware of. And because they know it has been rising for so long — and that it continues to rise — it’s easy to assume that the highest number must be correct.

It is also possible that people in France, Germany, and the UK believe that life expectancy in Europe as a whole is closer to the number for their own countries. Life expectancy at birth in Germany and in the United Kingdom is 81 years, while in France it’s 83 years. However, the overall figure is brought down by lower life expectancies in a number of Eastern European countries.

How many people in Europe suffer from depression?

  • A. 5%
  • B. 25%
  • C. 45%

Correct answer

In 2015, 44.3 million people—5.1% of the total population—suffered from depression in Europe, according to the World Health Organization. Option B (25%) would better describe the lifetime risk of depression, rather than the number of people suffering from depression at a specific point in time. Thinking that 45% of the population suffer from depression is just crazy… that would be like every second person around you!

Another data source, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) show that 4.2% of people in Europe suffered from depression in 2017, followed by the Western Pacific region (3.9%), the Americas (3.8%), the Eastern Mediterranean region (3.5%), South-East Asia (3.3%), and Africa (2.9%). No matter which data source we use, Europe is the most highly affected region.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization: https://gapm.io/xwhom, https://gapm.io/xwhomh2.

Europeans don’t realize how unusual depression is

The results for this question were terrible, just like almost all the others from this study. Only 15% of the people we surveyed answered this question correctly. That’s worse than the chimps yet again, who (as usual) managed 33% correct answers. German respondents were the “least bad” this time with 19% correct, followed by France with 16%, and the United Kingdom with measly 12%.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that this is a BIG problem! Mental health issues are often covered by the media as well as a variety of non-governmental organizations. Unfortunately, in many cases the phrases “depression” and “mental health” are used interchangeably, leading many people to confuse the two.

And, as explained above, there’s a big difference between the proportion of people suffering from depression within a single year compared to “at some point in their lives”.

Ultimately, it’s true that depression and other mental health disorders are a huge problem, as well as the incapacity of some of our health systems to meet the needs of patients who suffer from them. But yet again, it just isn’t as big a problem as we think it is. It is possible for us to address this without being overwhelmed.

What happened to the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections in the last 10 years in Europe?

  • A. Decreased by about 40%
  • B. Stayed about the same
  • C. Increased by about 40%

Correct answer

The rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections in Europe increased by 37% in the last ten years, going from 14.6 per 100,000 people in 2008 (about 110,000 cases in total) to 20 per 100,000 people in 2017 (about 160,000 cases).

Eastern Europe, and particularly Russia, have a great influence on the increase in new HIV infections in the region. In 2017, 82% of all new cases were reported from Eastern Europe, 14% were reported from Western Europe, and only 4% from Central Europe.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: https://gapm.io/xecdch

Europeans think HIV cases stayed the same

As with most of the questions in this study, our respondents didn’t seem to know anything about what’s going on in Europe from a health standpoint. Only 16% of the people we asked in the United Kingdom got this question right, compared to 17% in France, and 20% in Germany. A massive 82% of respondents didn’t even realise the situation has gotten worse regarding HIV in Europe.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that what they see in their country is true for all of Europe… People in rich countries tend to think their country is the best, and that their region is the most advanced. It’s difficult to think the situation has been going downhill when it comes to a disease that Europeans thought was getting better.

This level of ignorance is also most likely due to the fact that infection rates in the countries we surveyed are not increasing, and that most people don’t really think about Russia or the wider Eastern Europe when asked about Europe. In the past 10 years, none of the three polled countries has seen an increase in HIV rates, so it is quite plausible that people just extrapolate what they might have heard (or not heard) about their own country to Europe as a whole.

How many 15-year-old boys drink alcohol weekly in Europe?

  • A. 16%
  • B. 32%
  • C. 48%

Correct answer

16% of 15-year old boys drink alcohol weekly in Europe.

Option B would have been correct in 2002, when 32% of 15-year old boys in Europe consumed alcohol on a weekly basis. Option C has never been true anywhere in the world for this age bracket. According to the World Health Organization, there has been a large reduction in weekly alcohol use in most countries and regions between 2002 and 2014 (the most recent available data, published in 2018). Good news, right?!

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization: https://gapm.io/xwhoa

Europeans think young boys drink alcohol like it’s 2002

Our French respondents were almost as good as the chimps on this question, with 31% correct answers. In Germany the figure was 26%, while in the UK just a fifth (21%) of respondents knew the answer. Apparently, almost half of the people we asked overall still think they’re living in 2002… especially in the United Kingdom, where the largest decreases happened!

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that the world was better in the past.

It’s tempting to believe the world was better in the good old days. You know: youngsters were better behaved than they are now, everything was cheaper, there was less crime… many people fall into the trap of thinking this way.

But it’s just not true. In a great many ways, the world has never been better than it is now… and young people definitely drink less now than they did in the past.

How many children in Europe receive the full two doses of the measles vaccine?

  • A. 30%
  • B. 60%
  • C. 90%

Correct answer

In 2018, 91% of children in Europe received the two full doses of the measles vaccine. More children in Europe are being vaccinated against this disease than ever before! Options A and B aren’t just wrong — they’re very wrong. 60% would have been the correct answer for Europe as recently as the early 2000s, while 30% was the global figure at around the same time. Over the last two decades, however, things have progressed substantially.

There are still gaps in vaccination in some countries — particularly among small communities, in the older population, and in areas in conflict. That’s why cases of measles have risen in Europe over the past couple of years (about 80,000 cases in 2018, compared to about 24,000 in 2017). Due to media coverage, people in Europe are very well aware of this, which is probably why they might think vaccination rates are lower than they actually are.

Data sources

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization: https://gapm.io/xwhom1, https://gapm.io/xwhom2, https://gapm.io/xwhom3.

Europeans don’t know that almost all their children are immunized against measles

This time our German respondents scored best… if we can call it that! Still only 20% of them got it right. The United Kingdom came in second with 19%, while France brought up the rear with 18%. This isn’t exactly encouraging — more than 80% thought the proportion of European children fully vaccinated against measles was far lower than in reality.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Why do people pick the wrong answers? Because they think that if one thing is getting worse, then EVERYTHING must be getting worse! Clearly, people in Europe don’t realize that the vast majority of their children are getting the full two vaccine doses against this terrible disease. And ignorance about this fact is getting even worse as a result of news stories about the increasing number of measles cases across Europe (and the world). If cases are increasing, then the vaccination rates must be either low, or going down, or both… right? Wrong! The spread of measles is mainly due to issues related to confidence in the vaccine among fractions of the population, as well as logistical problems in areas where there is conflict. It’s not caused by a reduction in vaccinations overall.

How many children in Europe are obese today?

  • A. 10%
  • B. 25%
  • C. 40%

Correct answer

According to the World Health Organization, the rate of childhood obesity in Europe is 8.6%. Answers B and C are just terribly wrong. At 14%, the Americas is the region with the highest proportion of children with obesity today. The idea that 25% or 40% of all children in Europe (or in any region!) could be obese is just crazy — at least for now.

Why do we say “for now”? Because since 1975, obesity rates have been rising. If things don’t change, those crazy figures we mentioned above could happen in the future.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization: https://gapm.io/xwhoo

In Europe, childhood obesity is less common than people think

Our respondents in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom didn’t seem to have a clue about children with obesity, with only one in six respondents choosing the right answer. They weren’t extremely negative either, though. Just over half (51%) of our respondents picked the middle option, which is at least close to the right answer for the share of children in Europe who are overweight (not obese).

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think this is a HUGE problem!

There are probably two reasons why people choose the wrong answers for this question: First, the “obesity epidemic” is well-covered in the news, leading people to think it’s a bigger problem than it really is. Second, the lack of public understanding of the difference between the terms obese and overweight. The conditions are often mixed up — even by professionals. To be clear: not all overweight people are obese.

With all this said, obesity really is one of the largest health problems in the world today, and it is slowly growing… it’s just not quite as bad as our survey respondents thought. And there’s still time to change the trend!

Child deaths in Africa today are at the same level as in Europe in:

  • A. 1850
  • B. 1900
  • C. 1950

Correct answer

In Africa today, 7% of children die before their fifth birthday. That number is much higher than it should be, but is closer to what was common in Europe back in 1950, when 14% of children died before reaching 5 years of age.

In 1850, 38% of all children in Europe died before they reached age five, and the rate fell only very slightly to 34% by 1900). Imagine if that was the case today in Africa! Fortunately, child mortality has decreased significantly, not only in Africa but worldwide.

With declining poverty rates, improved hygiene and sanitation, introduction of and better access to vaccines, wide-spread basic healthcare, and improved women’s access to education, more and more children live to celebrate their 6th birthday and beyond.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the United Nations World Population Prospects 2019 dataset – https://gapm.io/xunpps, as well as our own calculations https://gapm.io/itfr.

Europeans don’t realize Africa’s health is like Europe in 1950

The results weren’t great for this question, but our respondents did manage to score as well as the chimps on average: 33% chose the correct answer. With that said, it is disappointing and concerning that two-thirds (67%) thought Africa is currently at the same level for child deaths as Europe was back in 1850 or 1900.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that things are TERRIBLE in Africa!

People have an outdated view of Africa. We think about the images of Africa displayed on TV shows, the news, or in movies, where it is portrayed as being extremely poor, with people suffering, starving, or at war. While it’s true that some things are still bad — just like many parts of the world — some African countries are more like 60 years behind (not 160!) when it comes to children’s health. There’s a long way to go, certainly, but it’s not nearly as bad as our survey respondents thought!

In Europe, almost 30% of all adults are smokers. How many adults in the world smoke?

  • A. 20%
  • B. 30%
  • C. 40%

Correct answer

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 19.9% of all adults in the world smoke. In Europe, 29.4% of all adults are smokers, which is more than any other region. Other WHO regions, such as Africa, the Americas, and SouthEast Asia have far lower number of smokers — 9.8%, 16.9% and 16.9% respectively – bringing the global figure down to 19.9%.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization. Data per region and globally are available here: https://gapm.io/xwhos

Europeans think the rest of the world smokes more than they do

The results were terrible, with just 21% of respondents selecting the correct answer. Meanwhile, a monumental 79% thought that rates of smoking in other parts of the world were as high or even higher than in Europe. The results were terrible across all three surveyed countries, with the United Kingdom having the “least horrible” results. 23% of Brits got the answer right, while Germany and France lagged behind with 21% and 20% respectively.


Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that Europe is always best!

There’s a tendency for people to envisage European people as being extremely healthy. So, if 30% of Europeans are smokers, the rate for the rest of the world must be higher, right? Wrong. Europe may be the best in some areas, but certainly not all. And when it comes to smoking Europeans are leading the world by some margin, with far higher rates than are found in Africa, the Americas, or South-East Asia.