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Living in London is, in many ways, surprisingly good for you, a report comparing health data from capital cities throughout Europe shows this week.

Mortality rates for Londoners are significantly lower than those for the people of, say, Berlin, Amsterdam or Vienna; smoking is less prevalent than in Copenhagen or Madrid, for example; and childhood mortality rates are among the lowest in Europe.

And, while proportionally more people are injured in road accidents in London, the city's death rate is remarkably low - proportionally less than a quarter that of Lisbon, and bettered only by Berlin, Vienna and Helsinki.

But it is not all good news. Londoners are more likely to be low birthweight babies born to teenage mothers - and they grow up fatter than other Europeans. At 13.5 per cent, the city has the highest proportion of obese citizens in the EU (see figure 1).

While London's hospital admission rates are no worse than average, they remain two-thirds as high again as those in Oslo, and a fifth higher than those in Stockholm or Amsterdam (see figure 2).

The comparisons emerge from data drawn together by the Health of Londoners Project for the EU-funded Project Megapoles and the European Commission's employment and social affairs directorate.

Part of a three-year initiative pulling together a network of initiatives in the EU countries and neighbouring Norway, Project Megapoles' ultimate aim is to find effective ways to reduce health inequalities, particularly for hard-to-reach groups.

Dr Martin Bardsley, project manager for the Health of Londoners Project and author of the report, admits that the initial findings 'raise questions rather than answers' - not least about the comparability of the data collected in different countries.

But, he says, at least it is a start - and if EU funding is forthcoming, there will be a second stage to the project. 'We need to identify a sub- set so that we can do more work on the areas that are going to be most useful.

'We also want to go through the definitions in much more detail and look at the interpretations people have placed on their comparative positions.'

Particularly where a city's data suggests it is in an extreme position compared with others, it is important to understand whether this is just an artefact of the data collection process or a reflection of reality, says Dr Bardsley.

There are also questions about what people in different cities consider normal or acceptable. Lyon, for example, shows a high rate of admission to hospital across many specialties, suggesting it relates to medical practice rather than health problems.

Dr Bardsley says: 'There was a bit of a fuss in Holland because it had become a part of the national psyche that infant mortality rates were low. They were shocked to see they were near the top of the list.'

One difficulty in making comparisons is that London is so much bigger - ranking on a par with New York or Tokyo.

It is also a young city: around 40 per cent of its inhabitants are under 35 years old, and along with other young cities, such as Dublin and Oslo, it has a high fertility rate. London's vast homelessness problem also has health implications (see table).

But London emerges reasonably well from a comparison of standardised mortality rates for people under 65 - a measure used as a proxy for avoidable deaths.

SMRs run from 20 deaths per 100,000 in Lyon, Stockholm and Madrid, through 24 in London to 30 in Brussels and Lisbon.

London does particularly well with its low death rate from accidents - along with Dublin, its rate is a third that of Oslo or Vienna - and its suicide rate is again a half to a third of that of some cities.

But death rates from respiratory disease are almost five times greater than in Vienna, while deaths from ischaemic heart disease in London are three times higher than those in Madrid or Lyon.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Dr Bardsley singles out Lyon and Madrid as possibly the 'healthiest' cities.

'Clearly you can't produce one single answer, and I might be influenced by the fact that the weather is better, but Madrid and Lyon tend to do consistently well across all the indicators,' he says.

Project Megapoles: health in Europe's capitals. www.elcha.co.uk/holp/

Homelessness in Europe

Number homeless Homeless

per 1,000 population

Athens 247 0.1

Amsterdam 2,500-3,000 3.5-4.0

Berlin 10,451 3.0

Copenhagen 1,030 2.1

Dublin 1,447 1.4

London 105,910 15.1

Madrid 3,000-5,000 0.6-1.0

Vienna 9,000 5.6

Stockholm 4,000 2.3

Lyon 1,000 0.6