October 23, 2007

Nations with the best health

Health stories normally concentrate on AIDS epidemics and disease outbreaks. But Foreign Policy looks at the five healthiest nations in the world.

Japan has the highest life expectancy. Japanese women live till 86, and men, 79. The secret of their success is low cholesterol foods and exercise. Government-sponsored pre-work workouts have ensured trim physiques. But high-fat western foods are adding to a high rate of diabetes. Seven million Japanese suffer from the disease.

France has surprising low rates of heart disease, the world's No. 1 killer. This is because of their emphasis on slow dining and a daily glass of wine. The French diet is high in fat, but scientists speculate their penchant for smaller portions and longer meals help keep heart disease at bay. However obesity rates are rising and there is worry heart disease could shoot up.

Iceland has world class natal care which ensures it has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world. It has just 2 deaths (US has 7) before the age of 5 for 1,000 live births. Extensive pre-and post-birth medical care offered by the state explains why. There is three months guaranteed professional leave for each parent. However, love of carbonated sodas by kids is increasing obesity rates.

Sweden has the highest cancer survival rates and nearly 100 per child immunization. This is because nearly 14% of government spending goes into healthcare. This covers 85% of medical bills in the country. The country also has some of the world’s best hospitals and coupled with that Swedes believe in holistic care. From happier professional lives to better street lights, everything possible is done to make their citizens happy. The lack of privatization in the health sector is a worry though with long queues being the norm.

Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the US and similar life expectancies. One of the reasons is better access to doctors. There are more doctors per capita—7 for every 1,000 Cubans— more than in any other country. This keeps health indicators at a level which rivals most developed countries. But early detection is a must. For when Cubans fall ill medicines and equipment are often in short supply. Nutrition and treatable diseases have also been on the rise thanks to shortages.

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