martes, 26 de enero de 2016

News Analysis: Is there any secret behind Italian centenarians?

Marzia De Giuli, China Xinhua News, 26/1/2016
ROME, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- According to the World Health Organization (WHO) latest report on aging and health, Italy is the second country in the world and the first in Europe for the number of over-65. What are the reasons for such a longevity?
Italy has a specific database on "super centenarians," according to which presently there are at least 24 living people in Italy aged over 110 and the oldest one is Emma Morano, 116. She was born on Nov. 29, 1899 in Piedmont, a region in northern Italy, and still lives there.
Morano is also the oldest living person in Europe, the last one born in the 19th century, according to the Gerontology Research Group -- a global group of researchers which tracks super centenarians -- and the second oldest living woman in the world after American Susannah Mushatt Jones, born on July 6 of the same year.
Morano, who is in good health conditions, said in a recent interview that eggs are a fundamental ingredient in her everyday's meals and that she loves singing. Every day she goes to sleep at the same hour and since she left her husband who used to mistreat her. She has been living an independent life.
Population aging arises from a variety of factors, Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director-general for family, women's and children's health, explained to Xinhua in a recent interview.
The first factor, she said, is more children surviving childhood, which results from better environmental conditions and public health initiatives such as vaccination.
People living longer, which generally is a reflection of health care improvement, and demographic trends, particularly a fall in fertility related to social changes, are the other factors, she added.
But in Italy's case, Bustreo went on saying, it is unlikely that population aging can be attributed to one of these factors in particular. "Most likely they coincided and complemented each other," she told Xinhua.
Mediterranean diet, for example, has been shown to have a positive influence on longevity, and could partly explain why there are so many centenarians in Italy. Yet there has been a slight shift away to different dietary patterns, which therefore does not explain the increased proportion of people living well past 100, Bustreo noted.
In her view, there are three key policies which can help increase longevity. "Firstly, ensuring that health systems are designed to meet the needs of old people, which needs a shift to services that can provide more integrated and person-centered care services," she said.
Secondly, long-term care should be provided in the community rather than in institutions, with a support for families, which are often the key provider of informal care, Bustreo said.
"Finally, we need to ensure that the places where people live, their homes, their communities and their cities are age-friendly, and WHO has established a global network of age-friendly cities to guide how this might be done," she concluded.
"In the 20th century we have seen a continuous growth of life expectancy in Western countries, which is due to several reasons, first of all a general improvement of life conditions and health systems," said Nicola Ferrara, president of the Italian Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology (SIGG).
"Anglo-Saxon studies have shown that over the 250,000 years before 1850 there was a one-year increase in life expectancy every 10,000 years. Since 1850, life expectancy has increased by one year every less than five years," he explained to Xinhua.
Presently in Italy, Ferrara told Xinhua, men have a life expectancy of around 80 and women of around 84, among the highest in the world, and both are constantly rising, with the gap between them reducing over time. In addition, Italy has a record low birth rate, he pointed out.
In his view, genetic factors count no more than 35 percent in life expectancy, which especially depends on lifestyle. And among the main lifestyle indicators there is certainly food, he stressed.
"Food has a very important role, and the traditional Italian diet -- fruit, vegetables, fish, integral grain and vegetable proteins -- is very rich in antioxidants which help longevity," he explained to Xinhua.
High quality and wide variety of raw materials as well as a low consumption of simple sugar, "which seems to be very bad for human body," were among the other elements that Ferrara cited as helping longevity in Italy.
A universal and solidarity-based health system in the country also plays a key role, he added. "In Italy health care is considered as a right and not as a market-based service. That is to say that the state protects the health of citizens both as an individual and as a social right," Ferrara elaborated.
The collective value given to old age also plays a central role in building a more positive state of mind and a balanced approach with old age, he said.

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