Where would a hunt for the world’s healthiest countries take you? Which country boasts the healthiest national diet, the healthiest lifestyle and environment, and the best health system? What does “healthy” mean to you?
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First stop, Singapore
In 2015, Singapore topped a new league of global health that drew on data from the United Nations, World Health Organization and the World Bank.
The rankings balanced the positives—high life expectancy and low death rates—against the negatives: indicators like poor access to immunisation, levels of raised cholesterol, and the proportion of young people who smoke.
Japan and Australia were also ranked highly, and six European countries made the top 10: Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Israel was the only Middle Eastern country, and there were no North or South American countries in the top 10.
The bottom 10 rankings were occupied by African countries. Swaziland was given the lowest grading of all, but was joined by Chad, Mozambique, Lesotho and Democratic Republic of Congo at the bottom of the list.
But look at the world in another way, and you’d travel elsewhere to find good health.
The next stop is Chad
Yes, African countries may have ranked relatively poorly based on life expectancy and risk factors, but the west of the continent is the place to head if you’re looking for a healthy diet.
A study by Cambridge University academics published in the medical journal The Lancet looked at diet trends in different countries over the last 20 years.
They closely examined diets linked to obesity or conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers looked for evidence of countries where people eat a relatively high proportion of healthy foods: fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk, polyunsaturated fat, fish and dietary fibre.
They also look for countries where there was relatively low consumption of “unhealthy items”, such as unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, saturated fats and salt.
Chad, Sierra Leone, Mali, Gambia, Uganda had the healthiest diets, they concluded. These are the countries where you’ll find a relatively high proportion of healthy ingredients and a relatively low proportion of unhealthy meals.
At the other end of the spectrum, they found former Soviet bloc countries such as Armenia and Kazakhstan as well Hungary and the Czech Republic. Here they found too much fat, salt and sugar.
Argentina was also rated among the countries with the worst diet, whereas neighbouring Brazil was deemed to be “moderate” in its consumption of healthy and unhealthy ingredients by comparison.
Staying healthy depends in part, of course, on the care you receive in when you fall ill.
Final destination: Europe
So our final destination is Europe. But where precisely in Europe offers the best healthcare is hotly debated.
The French system was hailed as the world’s best by the World Health Organization in a controversial report in the year 2000. A mix of public sector and private insurance, the French health system is rated highly for its access to high quality medical care and its cost.
Since then, other research has identified rival contenders for the world’s best health care system. The UK’s National Health Service was ranked first in a league table produced in 2014—despite some reservations about clinical outcomes.
But most recently, the Netherlands has been rated as offering the most ‘patient-friendly’ services—an important factor to consider when ranking which health service is the best.
Why? 24-hour primary care clinics open seven days a week are dotted around the country, meaning that people can be seen relatively quickly. Funded by private insurance, the Dutch system also encourages choice and patient-clinical collaboration to find the most appropriate treatment.
So, feeling unwell? It seems that somewhere in Western Europe is the place you’d want to be.
But there’s a missing key point. A healthy diet and lifestyle don’t depend on where you are in the world.
They depend on the choices you make.
You don’t have to be in Chad to eat more fruit and vegetables and cut down fat, salt and sugar in your diet. You don’t have to be in Singapore to quit smoking or make sure that your immunisation jabs are up to date.
So the healthiest place in the world? That should be wherever you are.
The information included in this article is provided for information purposes only and it is not intended to constitute professional advice or replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner.