When you look at the world’s healthiest nations, the list is dominated by developed countries such as Singapore, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Norway. They are among the healthiest, but not entirely because they always eat healthy food. It’s primarily because they have access to the best healthcare facilities, sanitation, and awareness. Here we take a look at the top 10 countries with healthiest diets in the world. Surprisingly, none of them are wealthy.
Apparently, poor countries have healthier diets
Emerging countries such as Chad, Congo, and Nigeria don’t have the resources to build an excellent healthcare system. Their governments don’t spend much on healthcare. Their lack of resources also means that their citizens can’t afford to spend money on junk, unhealthy, and packaged foods. They rely on natural, unprocessed food items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, meat, and wholegrain cereals. It’s what’s readily available and what they can afford.
In developed nations such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, the consumption of healthy foods has increased over the last couple of decades. But the worrying part is that the consumption of unhealthy foods such as sweetened beverages, processed, and packaged items has also shot up. The health-conscious people in wealthy nations are trying to eat right, but a large population is still living on junk.
Award-winning food writer Bee Wilson in her book The Way We Eat Now lists the top 10 countries with healthiest diets. Only two of them have per-capita GDP (in terms of PPP) of above $10,000. These are the ten countries with healthiest diets out of 197 nations and dependencies, according to Wilson:
- Sierra Leone
- French Guiana
Chad, which has the world’s healthiest diets, has per-capita GDP of just $2,415, according to Bloomberg. Tunisia and French Guiana are the only two nations in the list with per-capita GDP of above $10,000. It’s $12,372 for Tunisia and $18,300 for French Guiana. The country with the lowest GDP in the above list is Sierra Leone at $1,620 per-capita.
Obesity and malnutrition
According to Wilson, the higher income in developed countries leads people to consume more calories but less nutrition, thanks to processed and packaged foods. Only a small number of people eat healthy food, most likely because they can hire someone to prepare it for them.
There is an urgent need to improve diet quality in developed countries. Of course, people in poor nations also need nutritious food, but what they also need as much is better healthcare facilities and improved sanitation. In rich countries, obesity and obesity-related health issues have become a far bigger problem than undernutrition.
An estimated 3.4 million people die of obesity every year. It increases the risk of certain types of cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, and reduces lifespan. As per the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, 12% of the world’s adults and 5% children are obese.
According to OECD, the US is the most obese country on the planet with 38.2% of its population being obese. It is followed by Mexico at 32.4%. About 78 million adults and 13 million children in the US have a BMI above 30. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the average American adult today is 26 pounds heavier than in the 1950s, thanks to processed and packaged foods.
While many underdeveloped nations live on some of the healthiest diets, many others suffer from obesity due to lack of nutritious food for citizens, which forces them to live on an unhealthy diet. Malnutrition and obesity both are global health crises. Governments should take policy actions to ensure that people are getting optimal diets.