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Which countries are the healthiest? Canada and Spain battle it out to lead global wellness

Published: Tuesday 12 March 2019

By Halo Financial Team

Canada tops the charts for the world’s healthiest countries, scoring 0.69/1 to top the global Indigo Wellness Index, published by investment firm, LetterOne. Meanwhile, Spain tops the list of the latest Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index.

The Indigo Wellness Index

In the Indigo Wellness Index, Oman was placed second with 0.68 and Iceland came a close third, which reinforced how smaller countries were ‘punching above their weight’. Other smaller nations to make the top 10 were the Maldives, the Netherlands and Singapore.

Notably, some larger countries in the index, including the United States, Germany, France, Italy and Japan, failed to make the top 25.

The United Kingdom placed 15th, due to poor results in inactivity and obesity. The United States came 37th, brought down by inactivity, obesity and depression scores. South Africa was last of the 151 nations ranked.

The Indigo Wellness Index tracks the world’s healthiest countries using 10 measures: blood pressure, blood glucose, obesity, depression, happiness, alcohol use, tobacco use, exercise, healthy life expectancy and government spending on healthcare.

Richard Davies, a former Bank of England and UK Treasury economist, who compiled the index, says, ““While rich countries tend to lead, many emerging economies score more highly than some advanced nations. This is down to huge increases in life expectancy in these countries in recent years.

“The low scores for countries like South Africa—an economy lauded for its growth rate in the 2000s—shows that simply ranking an economy based on traditional economic metrics like GDP alone can miss important parts of the story when it comes to the well-being of a nation.”

The rankings are measured from 0-1, which the highest score being the healthiest. The indicators are illustrated using a traffic light system, with a poor score (under 0.3) receiving a red mark, a fair score (0.3-0.5) obtaining a yellow mark and a good score (over 0.5) earning a green mark.

Although there are countries in the Top 25 and in the G20 with a high Gross Domestic Product (and hence high healthcare spending), this does not necessarily translate into positive lifestyle factors, with rich countries experiencing high rates of depression and obesity, the report says.

“A striking observation is the finding that while rich countries tend to lead the Index, there are many emerging economies that are doing better than advanced nations. This reflects the huge increases in life expectancy in these countries in recent years, and the poor scores for depression and obesity that advanced countries like the United States receive.”

Across the 20 most populous countries outside of the G20, there is a huge disparity in performance, says the report.

The best of these performers is the Philippines, which ranks highly due to low levels of obesity and depression. The bottom of this group includes Egypt (poor score on obesity, blood glucose and life expectancy), Iraq, and Ukraine (poor rankings for depression and blood pressure).
Young woman practicing yoga on a rocky island

Bloomberg Healthiest Countries Index

The Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index ranks 169 economies according to factors contributing to overall health. Spain has gained six places this year, moving up from sixth last year to first place and overtaking last year’s winner, Italy.

Spain has the highest life expectancy within the EU, and comes third after Japan and Switzerland when ranked globally. The report points to the famously healthy and life-extending Mediterranean diet as a big contributing factor to overall health. When combined with a great climate and impressive healthcare, the country ticks many boxes to come in top place.

Europe has done well in the report, with Sweden (6th), Switzerland (5th), Iceland (3rd) and Norway (9th) all placing in the Top Ten. Globally, Australia came in seventh and Israel tenth.

Canada was only 17th in this index, with near neighbours, New Zealand, close behind in 18th. The UK and Ireland came in at 19th and 20th, respectively.

The USA, ostensibly also down to poor obesity and mental health scores, languishes in 35th place.

UK Quality of Life Report

Meanwhile, the UK government has separately published a comparison of measures for UK Quality of Life. Although the National Well-Being report was published in March 2019, much of the data included relates to studies from several years ago.

What is the state of the UK’s health?
  • Overall, personal well-being levels have improved in the UK, as have mental health scores – the latter increasing by 4.6 percentage points between 2011 and 2016 to 63.2%, close to the EU-28 average of 64.0%.
  • The proportion of people in the UK reporting feeling close to those in their neighbourhood increased by 3.6 percentage points to 62.0% between 2011 and 2016, compared with an average decrease of 4.0 percentage points across the EU-28 to 63.0%.
  • In the UK, 14.1% of people reported struggling to make ends meet in 2017, below the EU-28 average of 21.6%, and one-fifth reported that they were “very satisfied” with their household income in 2018, above the EU-28 average.
  • In the UK, people had a lower level of trust in the EU in 2018 than the average across the 28 countries of the EU (30.0% and 42.0% respectively).
  • In 2017, 9.6% of the UK’s total primary energy supply came from renewable sources; this proportion has increased year-on-year since 2010, but it is still below the OECD average (10.2%).
  • In the UK, health and social security (33.0%) and housing (22.0%) were the most important concerns; while across the EU-28, the most frequently cited issues in 2018 were unemployment (25.0%) and health and social security (23.0%).  
[This article uses the latest data available from sources including the OECDEurobarometerEuropean Quality of Life SurveyEurostatGallup World Poll, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.]

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