The Mediterranean diet and the good climate in Spain are undoubtedly two of the most recognised features of the country and a lure for millions of visitors each year. Along with  a sound, efficient health system, they are the keys which have turned us into one of the healthiest countries on the planet and, accordingly, with one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

This has become clear from the latest Healthiest Country Index 2019 report from Bloomberg in which Spain has been ranked first, as the healthiest country in the world. A study which analyses the various factors that influence the quality of life of citizens in 169 nations, such as dietary habits, the health system, life expectancy, smoking, obesity and the environment, amongst others. With a total score of 92.8 out of 100, Spain has risen six places since the 2017 edition, overtaking Italy, which had previously been ranked first, which moves to second position. The top 10 is completed by Iceland, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Singapore, Norway and Israel.

A country with the highest life expectancy

One of the clearest signs of the good health in a country is life expectancy. Life expectancy for someone born in Spain is 83.1 years old according to the World Health Organisation (2016), the highest in Europe and the third highest in the world – only the Japanese and the Swiss live longer. It is even envisaged that by 2040 Spain will have the longest life expectancy on the planet, around 86 years old, overtaking Japan. This is the the conclusion of a study carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington, published in 2018.

This constant growth in life expectancy in Spain, according to the OECD is due to, to the reduction in mortality after the age of 65. Mortality in Spain is actually one of the lowest in the EU thanks to a healthcare system which is effective in treating people suffering from potentially fatal diseases. According to the study Spain Health System Review, carried out by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, avoidable deaths fell from 62.9 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2000 to 45.4 in 2015, a figure which is well below the EU average (60.9).

A flagship health system

The health system is a key factor for the health and longevity of the Spanish. According to the report Health-Efficiency Index 2018, also by Bloomberg, Spain has the most efficient healthcare system in Europe and the third most efficient in the world, only surpassed by Hong Kong and Singapore surpassing it.

In the Healthcare Access and Quality Index published by The Lancet in 2018, Spain is ranked 19th of 195 countries in terms of healthcare and access. This is a study which measures the quality of the healthcare system worldwide, comparing the mortality rates of 32 curable diseases and awarding a score from 0  to a 100 depending on the adequacy of medical attention. Spain obtained 92 points, the same score as New Zealand, Denmark, Germany and France in a ranking led by Iceland and Norway with 97 points.

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

An essential part of the good health of the Spanish, as Bloomberg pointed out, is the Mediterranean diet: which consists of extra virgin olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; and a low intake of dairy products, red and  processed meats and sugar.

Its benefits to overall health and well-being are not just a mantra: the clinical trial Predimen (Prevention with the Mediterranean Diet) financed by the Carlos III Health Institute and jointly managed by a professor from Navarre University, has demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on cardiovascular prevention.

To be precise, the clinical trial –the largest carried out on this topic, with a sample of 10,000 people, and published in The New England Journal of Medicine– shows how the occurrence of strokes or heart attacks in people who follow this diet is significantly less, as well as reducing by 30% the risk of suffering arterial problems. Data which helps to explain the lower cardiovascular mortality in Mediterranean countries compared with Nordic countries or the USA.

Basically, good weather, diet and a sound healthcare system help to promote other areas such as tourism, but it is the Spanish who truely benefit from this. An asset which needs to be protected in Spain and projected to the rest of the world.