Country profile

Spain is the fifth most populated country in the EU with 46.5 million inhabitants. Spain is composed of 17 relatively autonomous communities (and two autonomous cities in North Africa). The communities have their own parliaments and regional governments, and act as the first level of administrative division below the state. The communities are divided into 50 provinces, which are integrated by municipalities. The municipalities manage internal provincial tasks, whereas the provinces carry out State activities.

The Spanish healthcare system is decentralized, and the 17 autonomous communities are responsible for delivering and organizing healthcare. The system is public and provides free or low-cost healthcare to citizens contributing to the social security system and their dependents, as well as to pensioners. The private health system is also very advanced. Life expectancy at birth in Spain reached 83 years in 2015 which is the highest among all EU countries. The relatively high obesity rate among adults in Spain is partly linked to low levels of physical activity. In 2014, less than 50% of adults reported doing at least moderate physical activity each week, the second lowest rate among EU countries.  A substantial gap in obesity rates exists by education level: people with the lowest level of education are more than two times more likely to be obese than the most educated.


Policy responses

Spanish Politicians started to address health inequalities at the national level in 1996 as a result of the work by a Scientific Commission to study health inequalities in Spain. The efforts got an extra boost in 2008 when a new government was put in place. This resulted in a National Commission on the reduction of Social Health Inequalities, which came up with 166 recommendations, of which the Ministry of Health prioritized nine. Currently, a National Strategy for Health Equity is being developed, which will build on the nine priority areas identified by the Ministry of Health. During the Spanish EU Presidency in the first half of 2010 the issue was also placed very high on the agenda.

In Spain, health inequalities are addressed both at the national and the regional level in an explicit and direct way, and cross-sectoral collaborations are taking place.

Public Health Services, both at the national and regional level, coordinate and develop action-plans and strategies to promote healthy lifestyles that will contribute to preserving a good state of health and quality of life in the different life stages of the population. The overall policy response has certainly been influenced by the work of the WHO and Michael Marmot, along with EU advocacy work. In general, the level of implementation of the policies and measures brought forward by the government is satisfactory. Moving forward monitoring and evaluation systems is a shared responsibility of the Ministry of Health, the health governments of Autonomous Communities and external experts and researchers from Health Institutes and Universities.

An overview of policy responses addressing health inequalities in can be found in our Policy Database.


Good practices

An overview of projects and initiatives that are currently taking place or that have successfully been finalized, and that are addressing health inequality issues, can be found in our Project Database.

Key actors

Please find below an overview of key actors in Spain working on health inequality issues:

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Key resources

Please find below an overview of relevant documents addressing health inequality issues in Spain. Further publications can be found in our Publications Database.

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