While Mediterranean regions are fighting it out for top healthy nation ranking, Australia is slipping.
Spain has overtaken Italy as the world’s healthiest country, according to Bloomberg’s 2019 Healthiest Country Index, while Australia has dropped two places to number seven.
Despite Australia’s escalating rates of obesity and heart disease, our nation is still well ahead of the US, which has slipped one place to rank 35.
For the Bloomberg index, countries are ranked on elements such as life expectancy and penalised for tobacco use, obesity and other health risks. Environmental considerations like hygiene and access to clean water are also factored in.
In the US, life expectancy has slipped as a result of premature death from drug overdoses and suicides, while the Mediterranean diet, with well-established health benefits, could help explain Spain’s and Italy’s superior rankings.
A different analysis by LetterOne, the Global Wellness Index, is also searching beyond economic data in their quest to identify a healthy society.
The latter index uses metrics including blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol use, obesity, government healthcare spending, rates of depression, happiness and exercise.
According to their breakdown, Canada ranks as number one out of 151 countries. The US doesn’t fare well on this one either, coming in at number 37, while Australia just scrapes into the top 25 healthiest countries at 23.
Overall, what stands out from both lists is that many smaller nations are outperforming countries considered financially well off, reflecting increased awareness that strong economies do not equate to better health.
Even though Australia is doing moderately well in the overall scheme of things, several facts can’t be ignored. For instance, we endure, on average, 11 years of poor health – topping other OECD countries.
Health equality has a long way to go, with a 10-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
More than half of Australia adults have poor health literacy and less than four percent of people consume recommended serves of vegetables and legumes while most Australians don’t follow guidelines for any of the five core food groups.
We are also the second highest meat consumers in the world, eating on average 95 kilograms per person each year (260 grams per day) compared to a world average of 35 kilograms annually.
This is a major concern, given that red meat is classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation.
A recent Lancet report by 37 experts worldwide recommends a dramatic reduction in meat consumption – no more than 28 grams per day – and 100 percent increase in legume, nut, fruit and vegetable consumption globally.
The CSIRO recommends that Australians also need to invest resources to support aging, address increased rates of chronic disease and improve equity in health care access.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Aug 16, 2018 in International
While physical decline is an inevitable product of growing old, some people stay stronger and live longer than most. And they tend to cluster in certain regions of the world that have attracted the curiosity of researchers.
In 2004, Dan Buettner joined forces with the National Geographic and longevity researchers to identify and study the world’s longest living people and environments where they were most concentrated.
They found five places: the Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy, the island of Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California and the Okinawa islands of Japan.
Research has revealed nine habits that are shared by long-living inhabitants of these regions:
Here we zoom into three of these zones for further insights.
Escaping high rates of chronic diseases commonly associated with aging, such as dementia, heart disease and cancer, older Okinawans have one of the world’s longest life and health expectancies.
The ongoing Okinawa Centenarian Study began in 1975. Researcher Dr Craig Willcox has written a book about the findings, one being eating “as low down the food chain as possible” – i.e. a plant-based diet.
They enjoy three serves of fish a week, plenty of wholegrains, vegetables, soy products, seaweed, squid and octopus. Local flavonoid-rich vegetables include purple sweet potatoes and bitter cucumbers. They also drink Jasmine tea.
A cultural highlight is a female band called KBG84 that rehearses and performs regularly – its members are all over 80. Like many Japanese people, its members are full of energy, which they ascribe to “ikigai” or “a sense of life.”
Sardinians live in their island’s mountainous villages. Like other Blue Zone dwellers, fruit, vegetables and beans dominate their diets. Typical Sardinians spend their active days toiling in their gardens, milking cows and walking miles to tend sheep.
They gather together with the whole family, young and old, to enjoy home-cooked meals with wine and homemade flat bread high in fibre, complex carbohydrates and protein and low in gluten.
While women live longer in Okinawa, Sardinia has more male centenarians. Some attribute this to the fact that women take care of household matters like bills – so the men might enjoy less stress.
From the mountains of Sardinia to the sandy peninsula of Nicoya, long-living Costa Ricans have long telomeres – genetic biomarkers of aging that shorten with stress.
They also enjoy a high plant-based diet, and drink local, limestone infused water high in calcium and magnesium.
Everywhere they go, they walk. They belong to different faith-based organisations. And they laugh a lot – this is a core element of what Costa Ricans call “pura vida,” meaning pure life.
The take home message? Embrace life, family/friends and healthy habits in a way that brings the most joy.