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'Sick man of Europe' is also the healthiest country on earth


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. But 2,800 miles south in Sierra Leone, the average newborn will die by 52.

Italy, strikingly, scored higher than other developed countries despite a rapidly aging population and well-rehearsed economic challenges.

Ireland, with a much younger population ranked 22, just ahead of the UK but less healthy than poorer EU peers Greece and Portugal.

While Italy is among the world's most developed economies, its regarded as the sick-man of the EU. Growth has stagnated for decades. Almost 40pc of its youngsters are out of work and the national government is saddled with one of the world's highest debt loads relative to the size of its economy.

Even so, Italians are in far better shape physically than Americans, Canadians or Britons, who all suffer from higher blood pressure and cholesterol and poorer mental health.

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

Then there is the diet, rich in vegetables and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Adam Drewnowski, director of the Centre for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, has written about the importance of 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.

Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia rounded out the top five most-healthy countries in the index.

Democracies have by far the healthiest populations, the report shows.

Cuba, at 31, is the highest ranked dictatorship, but it still comes in ahead of the US, at number 34 with a health grade of 73.05 out of 100. The US ranking for prevalence of overweight people is 67.3 - tipping the scale as one of the world's heaviest nations.

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

The Bloomberg ranking was based on a weighted composite score made-up of factors such as causes of death, life expectancy and survivor ratio at landmark ages for a maximum of 100. The researchers then knocked off points for negative factors - including obesity and environmental risks.

Separate data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) also showed the US well behind other rich countries and falling.

When it comes to happiness, the US ranked 19th among the 34 OECD countries, with the Nordic states dominating the top of the happiness charts, and Ireland clocking in mid-table at 15.

Irish Independent