The Healthiest (and Least Healthy) Countries in the World

Friday, April 3, 2015

World Health Day is on April 7, and people around the globe are turning their attention to health issues. The global infant mortality rate of 33.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013 has followed a long-term downward trend. Similarly, life expectancy has improved dramatically in recent decades. The improvements were uneven, however, and health conditions continue to vary widely between nations.

In order to assess the overall state of a country’s health, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a host of factors broadly categorized as health indicators, access measures, or the economy. The healthiest country, Qatar, led the countries reviewed with the highest overall score, while the least healthy country, Sudan, received the lowest score. These are the most and least healthy countries worldwide.

Negative health outcomes were far less common in the healthiest countries than in the least healthy ones. Chief among them, life expectancy, tended to be far higher in the nations with the strongest overall health measures. Life expectancy at birth in all of the healthiest countries exceeded the global expectancy of approximately 70 years. A child born in Iceland is expected to live longer than 80 years, the highest life expectancy in the world.

According to Gaetan Lafortune, senior economist at the OECD Health Division, life expectancy is perhaps the best way to measure the health of a nation. However, a range of indicators is necessary to capture the complex picture of a national population’s health. Similarly, no single measure can explain a health outcome like life expectancy. Rather, only a wide range of behaviors, infrastructure characteristics, and economic factors can explain the strong or weak health outcomes in a nation.

For example, seven of the healthiest nations reported less than 10 incidents of tuberculosis per 100,000 people in 2013, a fraction of the global rate of 126 incidents of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. While lung diseases and other poor health outcomes were far less common in these nations, risk factors such as smoking were not necessarily less prevalent. The residents of the healthiest nations were actually more likely than most nations reviewed to report a smoking habit.

The quality of a nation’s infrastructure and health system are closely related to a low prevalence of disease. Doctors were far more available in the healthiest countries than in the least healthy ones, for example. The prevalence of physicians in seven of the healthiest countries was at least double the global ratio of 1.52 physicians per 1,000 people. In all of the least healthy countries, on the other hand, there was less than one doctor per 1,000 people.

Source: 24/7 Wall St. (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
infrastructure, nutrition