Croatia is the 31st healthiest nation in the world... but could easily be the first

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Time Out contributors

Croatia has been ranked the 31st healthiest nation in the world. New York-based media and data outlet Bloomberg composed the new rankings for 2019, based on figures provided by the United Nations, World Bank and World Health Organization. The index is comprised of 169 nations who were ranked on factors including life expectancy, obesity, tobacco use, air quality and access to clean water.

Croatia's ranking at number 31 is an improvement of four places from last year, which is good news. However, examining the most healthy countries in the world indicates that something significant is holding Croatia back. The top two healthiest countries in the world are Italy and Spain.

Diet is thought to have a highly positive impact on the health of people in Spain and Italy. According to numerous studies, including one lead by the University of Navarra Medical School, a 'Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet'. Croatia's diet is easily comparable to both Italy's and Spain's, so why should the country lie so much further down the list? The difference in national healthcare is likely one key factor.

Spain's healthcare system is mostly funded publicly, by taxes. It runs on a highly ethical system that offers free access to all in need, regardless of their ability to pay. Everyone in Spain is therefore entitled to the same high level of care, no matter how much money they have nor how much money their treatment will cost. Spain's primary care is particularly praised, with specialised family doctors acting as gatekeepers to the health system. The country also experienced a notable decline in cardiovascular diseases and deaths from cancer over the past ten years, partly attributable to effective public health policies based on screening and prevention.

Croatia used to have a similar system of healthcare when it was part of Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, healthcare was free to all at the point of access, just as it is in countries like the UK and Cuba today. Cuba's healthcare system is regarded as being one of the best in the world.

In the years since its independence, Croatia's healthcare sector has grown considerably. The country now has some of the best practitioners and facilities in Europe. Indeed, an increasing number of visitors come to Croatia for its healthcare industry, such as for elective surgery and dentistry, particularly to areas in and around the capital of Zagreb and in places like Kvarner. However, Croatia's healthcare system is a private one, requiring every citizen to have health insurance. Access to the best healthcare in the country is therefore fixed to your ability to pay. It would appear that in the competitive race for medical excellence in Croatia, some of the population may be being left behind.

However, Spain's position at the top of the list does perhaps hold a reason for optimism within one distinct section of Croatian society. Some studies have suggested that the afternoon nap, famously known as siesta in Spain, may hold significant health benefits. This is great news for people in Dalmatia, who are regularly cited as taking advantage of periods of sleep in the afternoon while the rest of the country is at work, particularly in the summertime. The less good news for Dalmatians is that the most positive health aspects of siesta come when the period of sleep lasts slightly under 30 minutes.

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