Health headlines are more likely to focus on countries that have worsening HIV epidemics or that play host to the latest disease outbreak. But in a select few places, longevity and fitness trump viruses and early deaths. In this week’s List, FP examines five countries that boast the cleanest bills of health.
Fit factor: Long-lived citizens. With a life expectancy of 86 years, Japanese women live longer on average than any other people in the world. Japanese men dont live as long, but they can still expect to live to the ripe old age of 79 years on average.
Health secrets: Low-cholesterol diets and exercise. Diets rich in fish, rice, and seaweed have long kept heart disease and cancer in Japan in check. Various fitness crazes and government-sponsored pre-work workouts have helped generations of Japanese maintain trim physiques, and todays tech junkies have a little help of their own: Japans largest mobile telephone carrier just unveiled a Fitness Phone that measures daily activity.
Problem area: Rising rates of diabetes thanks to a growing appetite for high-fat Western foods. About 7 million Japanese currently suffer from the disease, which is spreading faster in Asia than any other region in the world.OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images
Fit factor: Surprisingly low rates of heart disease, the worlds No. 1 killer
Health secrets: Slow dining and a daily glass of wine. The French diet is famously high in fat, but scientists speculate that the French penchant for smaller portions, longer meals, and moderate amounts of wine help keep heart disease at bay.
Problem area: Obesity rates are on the rise, and health experts worry that heart disease in France is simply showing a time lag, suggesting that deaths from the disease could increase as expanding waistlines become the norm.iStockphoto.com
Fit factor: Lowest infant mortality in the world
Health secrets: World-class natal care. Only Singapore can match Iceland for the honor of worlds healthiest infants, with just 2 deaths before the age of 5 (compared with the United States 7) for every 1,000 live births. Iceland offers extensive pre- and post-birth medical care funded by the government, perhaps explaining why the country has one of the highest birth rates in Europe. And three months of guaranteed professional leave for each parent at 80 percent of their salaries probably makes for a happy home life.
Problem area: Icelandic kids tend to have a sweet tooth. The country is one of the worlds top sugar consumers per capita, mostly thanks to a love of carbonated sodas, putting obesity rates on the rise.DAVID CANNON/Getty Images
Fit factor: High cancer survival rates and nearly 100 percent child immunization
Health secrets: Government money and a comprehensive approach. Nearly 14 percent of Swedens government spending goes to healthcare (covering 85 percent of all medical bills in the country), and the countrys 9 million citizens are treated to cutting-edge medical technologies and the finest hospitals that money can buy. But money isnt everything. Swedes believe that holistic social careeverything from happier professional lives to better street lights that encourage evening walksresults in healthier citizens and ultimately lower medical bills.
Problem area: Long waits for appointments and surgeries. Some small-scale attempts at privatization have been implemented to decrease wait times, but theyve been inconsistent at best.THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
Fit factor: Lower infant mortality rate than the United States and similar life expectancies
Health secrets: More doctors per capita6 for every 1,000 Cubansthan any other country. And although having more doctors doesnt necessarily translate into a healthy populace, it does provide the government the workforce to focus on disease prevention, not to mention a shot in the arm to Fidel Castros medical diplomacy. Thousands of doctors are sent abroad each year to spread the gospel about Cubas socialized medicine, which, to be fair, has kept key health indicators at a level that rivals most developed countries. But Cubans no doubt appreciate the importance placed on early detection and prevention: When they do become ill, medicines and medical equipment are often in short supply.
Problem area: Lack of cash and the impending end of Castros era. Nutrition and treatable diseases have been on the rise thanks to shortages, and the more open a post-Castro Cuba becomes to the outside world, the more likely it will become susceptible to the deadliest U.S. import of all: the American diet.
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