Italy is the World’s Healthiest Country

two kinds of fresh tomatoes on display in crates on a testaccio market food tour

The news site Bloomberg has released its Global Health Index  and (surprise!) Italy is the world’s healthiest country.

Italy has an unexpectedly high number of centenarians – people who live to the age of 100. In fact, in one Italian village, 10% of the 3,000 residents are 100 or older!

So why is this happening? How did Italy become the world’s healthiest country?

Best Life asked me if I had any idea why Italy was so healthy and I was all “yep, here’s why”:

  1. Eating well: Forget carb-free diets, Italians live by the notion of “Everything in moderation.” There is no counting calories or any concept of free days – simply eating well (but not too much) is key. Italians start with pasta, but serving sizes are small – about 100g – and the sauces tend to be homemade rather than canned atrocities loaded with cream, salt and/or sugar. Next comes meat, and a side of fresh vegetables with plenty of olive oil.  And pizza? That’s fine too, but once a week or less. Let’s not be crazy here. (But if you find yourself hungry, here are some Rome restaurant reviews to tide you over).italy truffle pasta
  1. Italians are masters of work-life balance: The first thing Italians like to ask Americans is “Is it true you only get two weeks of vacation a year?!” Italians  get 4 weeks on average, and take every single day afforded to them. Don’t expect email replies after working hours either – leisure time is taken seriously.
  1. Keep it moving: Italians might not be gym rats, but almost everyone takes a passeggiata – a daily walk before dinner. It is the break between work and play, a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors, and a good excuse for a bit of exercise. But not too much – remember: everything in moderation.rome tiber bike and walking path
  2. Indulge a little: Italian living is about enjoyment, not excess.  When it comes to drinking, Italians will pop open a bottle of wine and enjoy a glass with dinner without a batting an eye. However, binge drinking is virtually unheard of. The healthy relationship with booze keeps everyone feeling like they enjoyed themselves, without the hangover to match.
  3. Family and Friends: Everyone needs some alone time but nothing can bum you out faster than feeling isolated. Italians rely upon friends and family, and have large social networks.  Need help with something? They always know a guy. The social networks are key to healthy relationships.
  4. Health care: Yes, we can talk about lifestyle for ages because the Italians have that completely down: the right food, the right amount of wine, the right exercise and the right relationships. However, keeping healthy requires the right health care as well. Perhaps there are waits to see some doctors, but overall the national health care is amazing and free. (In other words, essentially the opposite of what the US is currently proposing with the changes to the Affordable Care Act).

Do you think there are other reasons that Italy is the healthiest country in the world? Do you feel healthier here?

The rest of the top five include: Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia.

Italy is the world's healthiest country


20 thoughts on “Italy is the World’s Healthiest Country

    • Gaia says:

      Hi Joe, in fact basic health care IS free in Italy.
      Most medicines and specialistc visits are partially paid by the patients, but nothing slightly comparable with the US system.
      I am Italian and have been living in Spain for 11 years, here Health care is really completely free. To be honest, although the Spanish systems works much better than the Italian in many aspects, during the last few recession years the Spanish NHS has undergone a lot of cuts and has obviously got worse and worse. In Barcelona we often have to wait more than a week for a normal visit at our family doctor, and there is no way the doctor comes home to visit us (which is quite normal in Italy), we don’t even have any personal contact info, we can only contact our local health center to book visits. So you have to go yourself even if you have a flue at 38ºC and you have to call your local health center and book an urgency visit and you’re not visited by your own doctor or call an ambluance if you’re really (but really) – my parents still don’t believe this when I tell them.
      So during the last few years I’ve been missing the Italian basic health care system, I’d rather pay a little and wait less and get a better service.
      I liked the article, however I also found some old stereotype… not all Italians have 3 weeks vacation, this was true for past generations… go to Germany and you’ll get stunned: I lived there 2 years and I had 27 working days holiday, and after I became 30 I had 30 days. Working days. Satrudays and Sundays did not count, do the maths… sometimes we didn’t know what to do with all those vacation days. 🙂

  1. Marco Cappetta says:

    If you haven’t lived in Italy for some time, please do not comment on our healthcare system.
    It’s FREE in a sense that you don’t pay-per-use, it’s paid through taxes. It would be comparable to Police of Fire Fighters in the US. You don’t pay them when you need them, it’s paid through taxes and, personally, I’d rather my tax-dollar being spent on healthcare rather than nukes. Ciao & enjoy Trumpcare.

  2. Joe Daidone says:

    I have been to Italy and I am a descendant Italy – Nothing is free! It is paid for in taxes. Who do you know in the hospital that does not get paid? No one! Where does the money come from that does pay them? Do not be one of those journalists that provides false news. The rest of this article right on point. We love Italy just as much as anyone.

    • michael fallai says:

      Nevertheless, the quality of health care in Italy surpasses the US. Everyone is covered. Nobody goes bankrupt from medical bills, a common occurrence in the US.

      16% of US GDP is spent on health care, and the US ranks nowhere near the top of the list of nations with the best health care outcomes. Other countries spend 9% to 10% of GDP on health care and have far better results.

      Quibbling about how it’s paid for is completely beside-the-point. Other countries are doing it better and cheaper.

  3. Joe Daidone says:

    Sorry Natalie I did not see your comment. Taxes are paid by the citizens which is my point. Health care is not free. The top earners in Italy 43% plus localized taxes. Not to mention sales tax. Let’s not kid each other, we all know nothing is free.

    • Natalie says:

      It is a point that is taken, and its fair to think of the last point as being “citizens pay enough taxes to ensure universal healthcare is free for all.”

      I’ll just add that in the top 5: Italy, Iceland and Switzerland (the top three) all have universal healthcare. Singapore and Australia use a combination of compulsory savings and subsidies. Australia funds universal in-hospital treatment.

    • Francesca says:

      That’s true, we pay for healthcare with our tax. And we pay a little amount (56 euro) everytime we need for an x-ray, ultra sound, a total body scanner or MRI: every screening test which is not saving your life need to be paid.
      But if you are poor you don’t have to pay to be recovered.
      If you lose your job you don’t have to pay.
      If you are older than 70 you don’t have to pay.
      If you have a chronic disease you don’t have to pay.

      End every one has the right to be rescued for free.
      It’s not the best system in the world, but it’s a great relief to avoid to think about money when you are worry about your own health.

      (Sorry for my rusty English, I’m healthy but still Italian ?).

  4. Joe Daidone says:

    Marco – we are enjoying Trump, at the least most of us. I am sure your views are drowned in the media you read. Sure you can make fun of us, everyone does until they need us. Remember WWII Marco?

    • Natalie says:

      Hi Joe – as you mentioned I don’t want to spread false news. I agree that information can be colored by its source so I will use the latest Fox News poll: only 35% of voters approve of the administration’s handling of healthcare. The latest Gallup poll puts overall approval of the President at 37%, though there is a partisan difference on overall approval and on specific issues (e.g. Trump voters give a higher approval rating).

      • pier says:

        Daidone you are the classic american with a italian surname that claim to know Italy, or Italians, the so called italo americans but you dont know anything, about italy, nothing, .. you still eat pasta cokeed 3 hours with meatballs and maybe ketchup , telling around we eat that shit.
        of course we pay heathcare with our taxes , genius, but here if you have an hearth attack and you need an hearth operation or whatever is completely free, and this in the best hearth specialized hospital in the country, free, for everything serious can happen to an italian citizen, no insurance no more taxes , no more payments,nothing, do you understand this,?a broken leg, an hearth operation , a diarrea attack, FREE Not only , but if Natalie an american citizen lives here and work here and pays the taxes here , she must have the same treatment, so she will pay zero for an urgent operation. in america if you dont have the insurance the ambulance leaves you die on the street. is this clear for you? leave out all the comments about your clown president, and what we need. we need to stay far from all the troubles you create to us with your idiot foreign policy ( see Iraqi war,etc etc) , thanks God Usa is a big nation with more then 300 ml people most of them(at least the half) still with a brain, , and they will be always welcomed in a friendly and peaceable nation as Italy.

  5. Silvia says:

    healthcare may not be completely free, but at least it’s available to everyone, something that doesn’t happen in the US. and as an Italian veterinarian living in the States, not only I’m pro universal healthcare, I also believe quality of care in Italy is way better on average 😉 I have a knee injury and here I can’t see a doctor, insurance paid for physical therapy and try to avoid anything that is expensive unless there’s no other choice….

  6. michael fallai says:

    Joe seems to be very much hung up on the issue of taxes. In America, you pay the insurance company and if you get really sick, MAYBE they will cover you. In Italy (and in many other, more civilized nations), you pay taxes and you are covered. Period. Until ACA became law, insurance companies had a financial incentive to not cover people who had previously suffered a serious illness. Many insurance companies took the ‘pre-existing conditions’ to extremes – some even considered pregnancy to be a pre-existing condition that disqualified someone from coverage. This is absolutely barbaric, and anybody who would advocate going back to the days of disqualification for pre-existing conditions should be ashamed of themselves. People before insurance company profits!

  7. David says:

    I’m Italian born living in Canada and I agree 100%. In Canada, I have to make a conscious effort to watch what I eat and stay healthy. Visiting my native Calabria last summer, I was able to eat the pasta, pizza, arancini, legumi, cornettos and gelato and lose weight at the same time. Portions are generally smaller, the food is usually more organic and you walk alot more!


  8. silvia says:

    Hi, I’m from Italy and I’d like to explain that, while our health care system is obviously based on taxes, it isn’t correct to say that anyone who needs medical care, has to pay an additional contribution to services.
    Infact the contribution isn’t due in any case and when it’s due, it’s proportional to the income, the higher the income, the higher the contribution
    If the annual income does not exceed a defined threshold, there’s no contribution at all. Furthermore, people who suffer from chronic diseases, never pay for their healthcare.
    I speak of deseases such as diabetes, respiratory failure, heart failure, and also of cancer or rare deseases.
    It may not be all that one would wish, there is a lot we ought to fix, but I like the idea that everyone (citizen or not) is entitled to healthcare

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