SHARE
COPY LINK
THE LOCAL LIST

HEALTH

Want to know the secret to long life? Live in Spain

Spain was once again ranked highly worldwide for its residents' long life expectancy. The Local looks at Spaniards' secrets for what keeps them kicking longer than others.

Want to know the secret to long life? Live in Spain
Archive photo: Shutterstock

Spain was ranked second behind only Japan for life expectancy among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) list of advanced economies in a report on Wednesday.

Spaniards’ life expectancy at birth is 83.2 years, compared to 83.4 in Japan, which is well above the OECD average of 80.5. The life expectancy in the UK is 81.1 and in the US is 78.8.

The OECD report on Wednesday did point out that Spain still has a way to go on reducing things like tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity rates.

But what is it about Spain that still makes its residents live so long? The Local takes a look.

1. The diet


People eating tapas in Madrid. Photo: Gerard Julien /AFP.

Previous studies have praised the positive health effects of a Mediterranean diet, with one report in 2013 showing that it can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent.

Still, according to the OECD, Spaniards could probably improve upon their fruit and veggie consumption. Spain was just above the OECD average of 60 percent of adults saying they ate fruit daily.

But Spaniards fell way below the OECD average for eating their greens with just about half saying they ate vegetables daily.

2. Heart disease


Image: Bryan Brandenburg / Wikimedia Commons.

According to the OECD, part of what has helped the Spanish life expectancy to shoot up to second place in 2013 from sixth place in 2000 is the decline in deaths due to cardiovascular diseases.

Spaniards have one of the lowest mortality rates for heart disease, behind Portugal, the Netherlands, South Korea, France and Japan.

Part of this could be the drop in the number of people who smoke daily – a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease – which is down from 32 percent of adults in 2000 to 24 percent in 2013. Still, this rate is higher than the OECD average of 20 percent.

3. Low rates of suicide

Spain has the sixth lowest rate of suicide among OECD countries, behind Israel, Italy, Mexico, Greece and Turkey at the lowest.

Spain also has one of the lowest rates of inpatient suicide, behind just the Czech Republic, which can be an indicator for how well patients with psychiatric disorders are taken care of.

4. Health care


Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP.

Spain seems to do a comparatively good job making sure people, no matter their economic background, all get the medical care they need. Less than 1 percent of the population reported not having their medical needs met in 2013, meaning things like cost, traveling distance and waiting lists didn’t get in the way for the vast majority.

This put Spain at the top of the OECD charts, along with the Netherlands and Austria.

Spain was also rated highly by the OECD for its diabetes care, with one of the lowest rates of avoidable hospital admissions, behind just Italy and Switzerland

5. Jamón 


Photo: Valdavia / Wikimedia Commons.

OK, this one is a bit controversial in light of the World Health Organization’s recent report that placed cured meats like jamón in league with cigarettes for cancer risk.

But others say that because the meat is rich in oleic acid, which is also found in olive oil, jamón actually helps regulate cholesterol. And as The Local found in the below video, there are certainly many Spaniards who will insist that it is the ham that keeps them “fit” and long-living.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

HEALTH

How Spain could stamp out smoking

A fifth of Spain's population smokes on a daily basis. With such high numbers, here's how the country's pulmonologists propose to get smokers to quit.

Spain plans to get people to quit smoking
How Spain plans to get people to stop smoking. Photo: Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

For many outsiders, Spain is a nation of smokers. 

The stats from Spain’s Ministry of Health show that 23.3 percent of men smoke every day in Spain, compared with 16.4 percent of women.

For both males and females, the highest number of smokers are aged between 25 and 34, meaning that it’s the younger population who are smoking slightly more than the older generations. 

Spain’s pulmonologists are now pushing for the country’s tobacco laws to be tightened, claiming that reform is needed after the last legislation was approved a decade ago.

READ ALSO: Spain warns against smoking and vaping in public to avoid Covid infections

Why is smoking such a problem in Spain and what is being done about it?

The latest stats from the Spanish Ministry of Health show that lung cancer, often caused by smoking, is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in Spain, with 29,549 cases diagnosed so far in 2021.

Given these high figures Spain’s Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) has proposed five measures to help get people to stop smoking.

SEPAR points out that every time anti-smoking legislation is reformed and things for smokers made more difficult, the prevalence of smoking decreases.  

Smoking on terraces was banned in some regions during the pandemic. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP
  • Price of tobacco to rise in 2022

The first point on their list is to raise the price of tobacco, which must cover all forms, from cigarettes to cigars, through to rolling tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.  

This first measure may soon become a reality as the Spanish government has already predicted that the price of tobacco will rise in 2022, after several years of stagnation.  

It is expected that tobacco will be responsible for almost a third of all special taxes received in 2022, equating to €21.8 billion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “cheap tobacco” in Spain guarantees “a percentage of smokers above 30 percent”.

In Spain, the price of a pack of tobacco is around €5, which is much cheaper than in other countries. In Australia for example, a pack of tobacco costs around €22, and in the United Kingdom and France, each pack of tobacco costs around €12.4 and €10.5, respectively.

According to Dr. Carlos A. Jiménez Ruiz, pulmonologist and president of the society, the current anti-smoking law has “some deficiencies” that need to be addressed in order to develop legislation that is more effective and efficient, especially with regard to the prevention of tobacco consumption in young people, but also in helping smokers to stop smoking and in protecting the health of non-smokers. 

READ ALSO – Maps: Which beaches in Spain have banned smoking?

Besides increasing the cost of tobacco SEPAR proposes four other measures to get Spain to quit smoking. These include:

  • Banning the consumption of tobacco in public spaces, even outdoors
    During the pandemic, several regions approved a regulation to prohibit smoking on terraces. SEPAR proposes that smoking be prohibited not only in spaces such as terraces but also in sports stadiums, beaches, parks and bullrings, and that fines should be imposed for those who do not comply.

  • Establish generic packaging
    SEPAR also wants Spain to introduce generic packaging, which means no logos and images of the tobacco companies. This measure has also proven to lower the sales of tobacco in countries where it has been implemented, such as Australia and New Zealand. According to the latest statistics from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey around 11.6 percent of adults in Australia smoke daily. 

  • The regulation of other smoking devices
    Despite the fact that all products that burn tobacco such as cigarettes are already regulated, SEPAR believes that it is also necessary to regulate the sale, consumption and advertising of electronic cigarettes. This is because e-cigarettes have become particularly popular among young people. 

  • Promote help for those seeking to quit smoking
    The last proposal is the creation and development of special units in public health departments to help people to stop smoking and to put more funds towards these programmes. 

How does Spain compare with other European countries when it comes to smoking?

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while Spain does have a high number of smokers there are still several European countries that have more. The European countries with the highest number of smokers are Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The latest European survey from 2020 shows that 42 percent of Greeks claim to be smokers, which is only slightly above Spain. 

On the other side, the European countries with the lowest number of smokers are mainly Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

SHOW COMMENTS