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HEALTH

Why do people from this Spanish region live longer than all other Europeans?

Spaniards are predicted to have the longest life expectancy in the world by 2040, but there’s one Spanish region in particular where people just keep living longer.

Why do people from this Spanish region live longer than all other Europeans?
Photo: Bafomet-Jaén/Flickr

Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, has the population with the highest life expectancy in not only the country, but in Europe.

According to figures from Spain’s national stats agency INE, Galician men currently live on average to an age of 83 years and 4 months and Galician women to 86 years and 4 months.

In fact, it’s estimated that in the last decade Galicia’s 2.7 million inhabitants have gained an average 2 years and 4 months of life, and 3 years and 3 months over the last 20 years.

That means that Galicians are currently only surpassed in the longevity tables by the Japanese, whose average age hovers just under the 84-year mark.

With a projected average lifespan of nearly 85.8 years in 20 years, Spaniards as a whole are expected to outlive all other nations by 2040.

Experts forecast Galicia will beat all other Spanish autonomous communities in the life expectancy rankings when that day comes. 

Photo: Instituto Siglo XXI/Flickr

So what is it about this unique region with a distinctive culture from the rest of Spain that helps its residents live longer?

Well, it certainly isn’t thanks to the weather. Galicia is the region of Europe where it rains most often, its protruding geographical location meaning it gets more rainfall than anywhere in the UK or north-western regions of France such as Normandy or Brittany.

The chief reason for Galicians’ longevity is their diet, but not the Mediterranean one commonly associated with Spain, Italy and France; the lesser-known Atlantic one.

The Atlantic diet is largely composed of seasonal, locally sourced, fresh and minimally processed produce.

In terms of how it compares to the Mediterranean diet, food preparation favours stewing over frying and pig products such as cold meats (embutidos) are not as prevalent as in other parts of Spain’s local cuisines. Instead the staple food is fish and seafood.

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“Atlantic cuisine has an abundance of vegetables, fruit, fish, shellfish and olive oil, even the veal comes from cows reared in freedom”, Felipe F. Casanueva, professor of medicine at the University of Santiago de Compostela, told Spanish daily El Español.

For Casanueva there's no doubt that the Atlantic diet is the main reason Galicians live on average a year longer than their Andalusian counterparts in the south of Spain, but he admits that “in Galicia we’ve been more concerned about eating Atlantic-style cuisine than promoting it or studying it”.


 Photo: Santi Villamarín/Flickr

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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.

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