Happiness and health indices

Italy's struggling economy has the world's healthiest people

NEW YORK • When it comes to living a long life, Italy is the place to be.

The high-heeled boot surrounded by five seas is ranked the healthiest country on earth in the Bloomberg Global Health Index of 163 countries. A baby born in Italy can expect to live to be an octogenarian.

Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia rounded out the top five most-healthy countries in the index. But 4,500km south in Sierra Leone, the average newborn baby will die by age 52.

While Italy is among the most developed countries, growth has stagnated for decades, almost 40 per cent of its youngsters are out of jobs and it is saddled with one of the world's highest debt loads relative to the size of its economy.

Yet Italians are in way better shape than Americans, Canadians and Britons, who all suffer from higher blood pressure and cholesterol, and poorer mental health.

Italy also has "an excess of doctors," said Dr Tom Kenyon, a physician and CEO of global relief organisation Project Hope. Case in point, one of the country's most watched and long-running television shows is called A Doctor In The Family.

  • Top 10 healthiest nations

    1. Italy

    2. Iceland

    3. Switzerland

    4. Singapore

    5. Australia

    6. Spain

    7. Japan

    8. Sweden

    9. Israel

    10. Luxembourg


Then there is the diet, rich in vegetables and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Dr Adam Drewnowski, director of the Centre for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, has written about the importance of consumers having access to fresh produce, fruit, lean meats and fish.

Each country in the index was graded based on variables such as life expectancy, causes of death and health risks ranging from high blood pressure and tobacco use to malnutrition and the availability of clean water.

The developed world is not without its risks - obesity among them. The US placed No. 34 with a health grade of 73.05 out of 100. Its ranking for prevalence of overweight people is 67.3 - tipping the scale as one of the world's heaviest nations.

The poorest states - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia - are heaviest with more than 35 per cent of their populations considered obese, according to the US Centres for Disease Control.

In the rest of the world, Singapore and Cyprus are the only non-members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development - a grouping of 35 mostly developed nations - to make it into the top 20.

Israel is the highest-ranked country in the Middle East, Chile in Latin America, and Slovenia in Eastern Europe.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Italy's struggling economy has the world's healthiest people'. Print Edition | Subscribe