What We Can Learn From The World’s Healthiest Countries

First Posted: Mar 23, 2019 05:10 PM EDT

With the anti-vaccination movement seeing a global resurgence and public health crises continuing to plague leading industrial nations like the United States, it's worthwhile to ask what we can learn from the world's healthiest countries. In certain areas of the world, government officials, private sector professionals, and everyday citizens have come together to usher in an unprecedented era of health and prosperity - but not everyone understands how to copy this successful model.

Here are some of the world's healthiest countries, and what they can teach the rest of us about personal hygiene, health, and environmental responsibility.

Spain was ranked the healthiest in the world

According to a recent analysis from Bloomberg, Spaniards are the healthiest people in the world, largely because of their immensely nutritious Mediterranean diets and a number of positive public health initiatives. It's challenging to measure the overall health and wellbeing of a country's people, but a number of common metrics can be relied upon to give us a clear picture of who's thriving and who' struggling. The rate of smoking amongst an adult and teenage population, for instance, is often highly correlated with an overall unhealthy population.

Bloomberg's rankings for 2019 also make something very clear - some of the world's richest and most powerful nations are still lagging behind when it comes to public health. In the United States, for instance, the population is struggling with terrible dietary problems and a severe obesity epidemic, not to mention a resurgent opioid crisis that's particularly beset Midwestern cities and towns. In the country's that polled near the top of the list - Japan, Iceland, and Switzerland, to name a few - life expectancy is ticking upwards.

One thing that's becoming increasingly clear is that smaller countries are generally healthier than larger countries. Contemporary economists have seized upon data that illustrates smaller countries are generally doing better these days, indicating that downsizing may be in order for global populations to remain healthy amidst global climate change.  

A major part of the equation comes down to the dietary habits of everyday citizens. Whereas citizens in Spain are frequently encountering healthy meals on a regular basis, and thereby avoiding birth defects in their children, many people in larger countries such as the United States have diets inundated with corn syrup-derived sugar and cheap fast food. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the dependency of Americans on fatty foods is seriously contributing to the public health epidemic; processed foods, in general, contribute to lower life expectancies, and the ongoing obesity epidemic helps spur heart disease, which remains the leading cause of death in America.

Moving towards a healthier future

In order to move towards a healthier future, the world should rip a page from the healthier countries' playbook and begin to adopt more environmentally-conscious policies while championing healthier diets. In developing areas of the world, for instance, non-environmentally friendly ways of industrializing are bolstering economic growth at the expense of everyday human health and hygiene. Some of the most polluted cities on the planet are in India and China, where industrialization has come at the expense of clean air and water.

If there's something to be learned from the healthier countries, it's that the quality of the environment humans live in can't be sacrificed in order to enjoy robust growth. Greener means of production are necessary going forward, which is why it's imperative that non-polluting energy sources like solar energy become more viable and affordable. Furthermore, a number of public health policies can drastically reduce death rates in many parts of the world.

Taking a hard stance against tobacco, for instance, is a surefire way for any country to bolster the life-expectancy and quality of life of all its citizens, even those who have never smoked. This is because the detrimental effects of second and third-hand smoke can impact even non-smokers. As research from the CDC has demonstrated, smokefree policies substantially improve health even when they're sponsored by private businesses instead of government legislation.

Better transit is needed

Another common denominator amongst the world's healthiest countries is a focus on healthier transit options. Countries that have high rates of biking instead of driving, for instance, simultaneously improve the health of their citizens while cutting back on harmful carbon emissions that pollute local air and choke everyday people.

If the world is to become ubiquitously healthy, greener transit and energy options must be championed alongside of healthier diets. Similarly, banning harmful practices that occur in public spaces (like smoking) can seriously cut back on the rate of preventable afflictions that beset global citizens. This requires a combination of government action, private sector endorsements, and everyday activism on the part of regular folks. While many countries will doubtlessly keep plunging ahead with fossil fuels and fatty foods, it's becoming increasingly clear that the future belongs to smaller countries who emphasis environmental health and citizen wellbeing.

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