There has been a dramatic improvement in the health of European children and adults since 1900. These improvements were remarkable in the first half of the century, with a progressive fall in the death of children and pregnant women and substantial increases in life expectancy. This century's early health changes were not the result of the provision of medical services, the discovery of drugs and antibiotics, or even the increasing capacity to immunise children against an ever greater range of infectious diseases. They resulted from improvements in the diet, in the housing, occupational and social conditions of workers and their families. Since World War II, with modern living conditions, the general year-around availability of a huge variety of foods, expanding immunisation and improving health care through the health services, with modern therapeutic techniques and new drugs, life expectancy continues to increase in many European countries. These are great public health achievements which should not be overlooked by policy makers and indeed the public.