Searching for the healthiest country on Earth? Then look no further than Italy, according to Bloomberg’s Global Health Index rankings released Monday. Italy took the top spot with a health grade of 93.11, followed by Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia.
The index ranked 163 countries by factors such as life expectancy, health risks, causes of death and availability of clean water. Italy’s dominance was due to fewer health problems like high cholesterol among its residents, an excess of doctors and the widely recognized benefits of its popular Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet has long been extolled for its health benefits. Laden with fish, nuts, vegetables and olive oil, the diet has been linked to decreased mortality, protection against heart disease, stroke, cancer and other ailments, and even less shrinking of the brain. While specific foods and habits vary from region to region in the Mediterranean, the general eating patterns have proven so beneficial that researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, along with a nonprofit food think tank called Oldways, came up with an unofficial food pyramid so others could mimic the diet.
Researchers have honed in on Italy as a mecca of health in the past. The average life span in Italy is just shy of 83 years, according to the World Bank. The average life span in the United States, in contrast, is around 79 years. In 2016, scientists began studying a remote town on the southern Italian coast called Acciaroli, where residents were routinely living into their hundreds.
Though the health of Italy as a nation ranks as the best around the world, Bloomberg noted that the country’s economy does not. Relative to its size, the nation has among the largest national debt in the world.
The U.S. ranked No. 34 on the list, with a health grade of 73.05. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are considered to be overweight or obese, according to the National Insitute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.