European Health Misconception Study 2019

Most people in Europe are absolutely wrong about the current state of health in their part of the world!

As part of the European Health Misconception Study 2019, Gapminder asked nine fact questions to the general public in three countries: Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. We tested their knowledge on HIV infections, obesity in children, measles vaccinations, smoking, child deaths, alcohol consumption, depression, life expectancy, and suicide rates.

The results revealed some staggering misconceptions:

  • Europeans think the rest of the world smokes more than they do.
  • Europeans don’t realize Africa’s health is like Europe in 1950.
  • In Europe, childhood obesity is less common than people think.
  • Europeans don’t know that almost all their children are immunized against measles.
  • Europeans think young boys drink alcohol like it’s 2002.
  • Europeans think HIV cases are decreasing.
  • Europeans don’t realize how unusual depression is.
  • Lives in Eastern Europe are shorter than Western Europeans think.
  • When fewer people commit suicide, nobody notices.


Our findings show that these misconceptions aren’t just common—they’re systematic across the three countries we surveyed. The pictures European people have in their minds about health are not based on reliable data, despite the fact that it’s freely available online. Instead, their perceptions are based on what they learnt in school, media headlines and their human intuition, which consistently distorts reality.

71% of our respondents scored less than three correct answers, while most people got one or two answers right. Not one person managed to answer eight or nine questions correctly. The average score for the three countries was 1.9 correct answers out of 9 — a terrible result.

The report below summarises the responses to each question, and offers an explanation for the misconceptions behind the terrible results.

Download the report