In 2017, the Bloomberg Global Health Index rated Italy number 1 out of 163 countries for a long and healthy life. Every country in the index was evaluated based on diverse variables: life expectancy, causes of death, health risks such as elevated blood pressure, use of tobacco, availability of clean water, and risk of malnutrition.
The top 10 countries are: Italy, Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Spain, Japan, Sweden, Israel, and Luxembourg. The United States came in 34th because of the epidemic of obesity. The Italians are better than the Americans (#34), the Canadians (#17) and the British (#23), who are hit more by hypertension, cholesterol, and mental disorders.
Italy is number 1 notwithstanding its shaky and stagnant economy. About 40% of the youth are without work, and the country is crushed by a public debt that is among the highest in the world. But the family is strong and perhaps social services also contribute to the reduction in numbers of the hungry and homeless.
Among Italy’s strong points in the Bloomberg study, not surprisingly, is the diet, which is rich in vegetables and seasoning with olive oil. Moreover, most of the top 10 countries also have a diet rich in fish. The Bloomberg study also cites the elevated number of doctors in Italy as a strong point. But this issue is a bit complicated. Another study in 2016 analyzed the numbers of people employed in health care. It showed that Italy has 3.9 physicians for every 1,000 residents – after Greece (6.29), Austria (4.9) Germany (4.05) and Switzerland (4.04). In fact, there is a controversy within Italy about the shortage of staff within Italian hospitals. This has been caused by the lack of medical staff replacement after the number of entrants to medical school was restricted in 1999.
According to the Bloomberg study, a baby born in Italy has a life expectancy of at least 80 years compared to 52 in Sierra Leone, which is in last place. But some of the data don’t jive. For example, a report in Italy a year ago showed a drop in life expectancy: 80.1 for men, 84.7 for women while the numbers were 80.3 for men and 85 for women in 2014. Perhaps the reason is that there is less effort put into prevention. Luckily, Italians smoke less today (but 25% more than Americans); in 2014 more than a third of the adult population was overweight and a little more than 10% were obese…despite the Mediterranean diet.
Every country has its problems.