World’s Healthiest Countries: Where Does Yours Rank?

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on June 30, 2009

In 2008, published a list of the World’s Healthiest Countries.

First, let’s take a look at how they did their judging.

Behind The Numbers

  • They looked at the latest available health and environmental statistics for every nation, from sources such as the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the UN.
  • Due to incomplete data, only the 138 nations with statistics in every measure were ranked.
  • That’s why you won’t see countries like Monaco, Norway, Malta, Belgium, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Ireland and Andorra–all of which had a shot of cracking the top 15 were they not missing information.

So as you can already see, the study does have its’ flaws-we should take everything with a grain of salt (as always!).

The statistics examined:

  • Estimated air pollution in world cities;
  • the percentage of a country’s population with access to improved drinking water and sanitation;
  • infant mortality rates;
  • the rate of prevalence of tuberculosis;
  • the density of physicians–generalists and specialists–per 1,000 people;
  • undernourishment rates; and
  • healthy life expectancies for men

It is interesting to note what the statistics were based on and also that factors such as stress, percentage overweight, etc were not included in these analyses.

And here are the Top 15 Healthiest Countries in 2008 according to starting with 15th place and working up to the healthiest city:

15th place: France

A stellar health care system and clean air landed France on the list. Working against it: the worst wastewater treatment standards of the top 15. Its tuberculosis rate–11 cases per 100,000 people, one of the highest on the list–also held it back. But there’s good news for the country’s chronically ill; France’s high physician density measurement: 3.37 per 1,000 people.

14) Spain

13) Czech Republic

12) Israel

11) U.S.A.


The U.S. spends over 15% of its gross domestic product on health care–with little to show for it. In 2006, almost 16% of the population lacked health insurance. Still, of the 15 countries on the list the U.S came out on top when measuring infant mortality rate. The country also has the second-highest healthy life expectancy. What’s more, air pollution is relatively low, and the U.S. boasts one of the world’s lowest TB rates.

10) Netherlands

9) Austria

8) Canada


The Great White North has the list’s lowest number of doctors per capita, or 2.1 for every 1,000. Still, Canadians enjoy one of the world’s longest life expectancies and one of the lowest TB rates, or 3.6 per 100,000 people. A relatively high infant mortality rate, 5 deaths per 1,000 live births, also lands Canada in spot eight.

7) Denmark

6) Australia

5) Switzerland

4) Germany

3) Finland

2) Sweden

1) Iceland


Icelanders enjoy one of the world’s highest healthy life expectancies (72 for men and 74 for women), giving them plenty of time with the country’s mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls and coastal lands. The country is also one of the world’s least polluted. Ensuring Iceland’s top position is the country’s TB prevalence (2.2 per 100,000 people) and infant mortality rate (two deaths per 1,000 live births), both the world’s lowest. The country also has one of the highest physician densities, 3.62 per 1,000 people.

Today’s question:

What do you think of the study’s results? Do you think the study should include more factors? If so, what are they? Do you think your country should be higher on the scale (or lower)?

Personally, I was a bit surprised to see how few statistics were used when analyzing the countries. I would have liked to see stress, # overweight, health conditions (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc) included in the analyses. However, coming from a research background I know how hard obtaining complete statistics can be- sometimes a complete nightmare!! Especially when you are including countries that aren’t industrialized and technology oriented. It appears that WHO, among others, need to devote more time to obtaining a wider variety of stats. I guess in time that will come.

It does NOT surprise me that Canada ranked lowest for doctors!! It is extremely hard to find a doctor when you move to a city, especially for those people living in Northern Canada. I think I heard that many Medical schools now require doctors to spend their first year (or more) up north as part of their internship. I can certainly see why! Many of our doctors end up going to the US where they can make much more money.

Oh- and I would LOVE to go to Iceland someday!!!! :D


See you tonight for some fun Summer Glow clues!!!

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie June 30, 2009 at 1:37 pm

i want to order one of your tshirts (the black “i like it green” and i was wondering if you have coupon codes or anything before i buy?


kim June 30, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I too am surprised how little it seemed they used statistically to compare. I’m sure if you added obesity, how people commute (bike, walk, car), and health standards, it would be very different. Growing up right on the US/Canadian border, it ALWAYS shocked me how Canadian food standards are so different than American standards. That has to play into things some how!


caitlin June 30, 2009 at 1:40 pm



Lauren June 30, 2009 at 1:41 pm

I agree completely about including stress, obesity and disease.

Yay for Canada being #8 though! :)


AGS June 30, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Great study. Fascinating. In an ideal research world, we’d have all the stats you mentioned above. ;) But the standard indicators of access to health care, infant mortality, air quality, are very good approximations.

What would have been interesting would be to consider *variability* within each country (infant mortality rates vary by region a good bit in the U.S. — as well as by population — in particular, by race). Also, to what extent do these larger country effects have on individuals’ health (if any?). And, do regional effects account for what we might initially think was a country effect? OK. . . I guess my quant background is taking over!!!


Rosalie June 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I can understand why obesity might be a concern for people in developed countries (ie. canada, the US, europe), but conditions like malnutrition, TB, infant mortality, etc, probably shorten life a lot more when they arise. I know that when they look at “healthiest cities in the US” or “healthiest states in the US,” they look more closely at lifestyle habits because those are the big problems here.

YAY canada at #8! I’m a canadian who lives in the US so my heart resides in both places :)


Susan June 30, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Why does it say that the US comes out on top when it comes to infant mortality rate? We’re not anywhere near the top! The US has a terrible infant mortality rate when compared to other developed countries.

I think the study does well with the information they have. It really depends on your definitely of “healthy.” It seems like the ratings are based on healthy meaning being alive and having a longer life expectancy. If you define healthy as eating healthy foods, less stress, not being overweight, exercising, then that’s a different way to look at it.


Kimberly Lee June 30, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I agree wtih you, Angela, as well as the other poster when I say that I wish the study had looked at more comprehensive stats. I was expecting to see the US much lower in rankings. I live in the “deep South” of the US and would venture to say that the majority of those residing in this area are not anyway as healthy as their counterparts living in other regions of the country or in other nations.


Valerie June 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm

The lack of doctors in Canada doesn’t surprise me. My family doctor is in a town 1 hour away because he’s been my doctor since I was born & I couldn’t find someone more local when I moved up north or to university. However, I’ve heard the family doctor shortage is more of a rural than urban problem, so I bet the access to doctors varies much more based on location in Canada than in other countries.

I do agree that more factors should have been used, but again, some countries may not have complete data for certain variables, or any data at all. It definitely would be interesting to see if things change at all if a more complete data set is used in the future.


Courtney June 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I also read today that Finland is one of the HAPPIEST countried in the world. So health = happiness!!


Gillian June 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I still have to go back to my family Doctor an hour out of the city even though I live downtown now – it is uber lame and a pain in the rear when I have an appointment! Although I shouldn’t complain as it is “free” and have the opportunity to go to one!


[email protected] Do I Eat Now? June 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

we have tons of doctors to pick from around my area.. I live between Providence, RI (which has the BEST childrens hospital in NE I think) and Boston- the best cancer treatment centers are about 45 minutes away.. i do feel really fortunate that a hospital is only 15 minutes away- many people don’t have this option!!

I would love to see Iceland and just relish in its beauty though- it must be wonderful!!!


Katherine June 30, 2009 at 2:34 pm

PITTSBURGH!!!! I love that photo!! In fact, I was almost born right there at that big fountain at the Point – my parents were at a concert celebrating their anniversary when my mom went into labor during intermission (I remind her to thank me for the convenient timing often) and we were off to the hospital where I was born a few hours later :)

Sorry, I know that was totally off topic, but the picture inspired me!!


Heather @ Health, Happiness, and Hope June 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm

I’ve heard that Iceland is considered the healthiest Country because of their laidback, healthy attitude towards life and low stress levels. It looks like such a beautiful country, and I totally agree that I’d love to visit there someday!



Marcia June 30, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Hey I recognize my college town of Pittsburgh in that picture! But I wasn’t born at the point…that’s a funny story Katherine.

Not surprised by Denmark.


PRT June 30, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Well, Spain is the 14th. What surprised me more than the rank position (I thought it will be worse) are the different facts exposed by Forbes as justification.

It has always been said that Spain and Norway have one of the longest life expectation in Europe; our public health system is as good as the french one (so glad for it!) so finding a doctor is not hard at all, in fact most of our medical doctors are “exported” to other countries in Europe because there is lack of them in those other countries.

I didn’t know that our tuberculosis rate was so high, but I can corroborate the air pollution on the bigger cities.

Not trying to “defend” my country, just pointing out what I have heard about it over the years.

All in all, I would include other factors trying to be more realistic like the diet, overweight rates, stress, coronary diseases or even cancer (selecting maybe the more common worldwide).


Susan June 30, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I want to go to Iceland sooooo badly!!!! My mom had a boyfriend that sailed there from Halifax, and his videos/pictures were stunning. I fell in love on the spot!

I’m not surprised by the low number of doctors here either. I think it’s a huge problem


Christina June 30, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland. This just gives me another reason to make sure I get there someday!

Love the Pittsburgh pic – I went to college there!


Krista June 30, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Go Canada! Even though Iceland placed first and looks beautiful, I think it would just be too cold for me. I’m loving these posts that you’ve been doing! They’re very informative in a fun way. :)


Cuts and Curves June 30, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Great post! It’s nice to have some interesting information thrown into my day. I did think Switzerland would be higher up on the list. I also have to say, those were some beautiful pictures! We live on a gorgeous planet.


The Running Yogini June 30, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Ooooh! I would love to live in Iceland for a short period of time. It looks so gentle and relaxing :-) Have a great day. I’m so excited for tomorrow!


Betsy June 30, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Look at that picture of the most beautiful city in the world, my city, Pittsburgh. :)


Maisa June 30, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Well, I’m from Finland and I really think that our country and other Northern Europe countries like Sweden and Icelad are perfect places to live.

However, I don’t believe in these kind of researches. There just are things you can’t rate. For example, Finland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.


Bree June 30, 2009 at 4:06 pm

haha, love that the #8 for Canada turned into the sunglasses smiley for you, how appropriate :-D


Kayzilla June 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I really thought Australia would be on the to–


Right. Drinking habits. Well aside from that, they’d be atleast on the top 15, right? o__o;;

I really want to move to Finland. Okay, I have only met ONE person from Finland that was fun to talk to (and I found absolutely adorable because he didn’t know what poptarts were! So cuuuute~!!), the rest are usually pretty boring, but the country is beautiful and very peaceful so I’ve heard.

-sigh- Either that or Australia. I’m seriously convinced Australia has to be on the fairly healthy side. I’ve seen so many vegans online from Australia. They’re hogging all mah vegan goodies. >: ( You too, Canada! -shakes angry fist-


Faith June 30, 2009 at 4:51 pm

These pictures are BEAUTIFUL! Thanks for the great info!


Jen June 30, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I’m really surprised that Japan isn’t on that list… I guess they must have been left off because of incomplete information? Or because this survey seems to only really include western countries??

Anyway, Japan should be on there:
High life expectancy
Excellent medical care
Low obesity rates
Very healthy traditional diet (compared to the majority of western countries)

The only things that I can see that would keep it down are that along with low obesity rates, the number of people who are underweight (according to BMI, which is a very flawed measure for this kind of thing) is much higher than in most western countries, with around 12% of women and 6% of men being underweight (compared to around 3% of women and 1 or 2% of men in the UK). Also, since the traditional Japanese diet is quite high in salt, there is quite a lot of high blood pressure etc. Still though, I’m pretty sure it deserves to be on that list.

I am however, not at all surprised that the UK isn’t on there. Hahaha.


Whitney June 30, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Ahh that lovely picture under #11 is Pittsburgh! America’s most livable city (and my hometown!)


kayla June 30, 2009 at 6:13 pm

I would love to see this survey with # overweight/underweight included. I think that would change drastically the results,


[email protected] June 30, 2009 at 7:08 pm

We went to Iceland for my birthday in March. I wrote my first blog post about it! It was amazingly clean, gorgeous, and I have never felt so relaxed in my life! I have been to 9/15 of these, awesome!


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