As the founder of a wellness travel company, I'm on the road quite a bit and have experienced my fair share of ailments abroad.
In the mid-'90s, I left a potluck dinner party in London with a severe case of strep throat. I went to a local hospital and was promptly treated for free. On the other hand, I came down with a stomach bug in Indonesia and didn't even have access to clean water. It's experiences like these that have made me interested in the ways that countries around the world prioritize health and well-being.
Earlier this year, the UN General Assembly published the results from a 10-year comprehensive study, which determined a country's health by looking at 17 development goals, such as ending poverty in all its forms, promoting sustainable agriculture, and ensuring healthy lives for residents of all ages. Here's a look at what the three healthiest nations are doing differently.
From a publicly funded health care system to multiple sustainability efforts, Iceland tops the list of the world's healthiest countries. The country's sparse population means that its natural resources are relatively untouched and pristine, and 85 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources such as geothermal power stations, which means less reliance on fossil fuel. Not to mention, the 120 hot spring pools around the country, which have historical significance of positively affecting social, mental, and physical health.
Since 2005, Iceland has enforced strict smoking laws such a banning smoking entirely from schools and installing a ban on tobacco advertising. Its residents tend to eat diets that are packed with fresh fish, which have been shown to keep heart disease and inflammation at bay. Add all this together and you have a recipe for healthful, happy living.
The Singaporean government has high health standards and works to ensure basic medical care such as immunizations and health care screenings are accessible to all residents. In 2014, the country launched the Healthier Dining Programme, a government initiative that helps restaurants develop healthier menu options. It has since encouraged the use of healthier ingredients such as brown rice and whole-grain noodles well as anti-inflammatory spices like ginger and turmeric. You don't even have to step outside Singapore's Changi Airport to notice the country's commitment to health. You can experience the country's commitment to wellness without ever having to clear immigration by enjoying the outdoor nature trail, sleeping areas, and reflexology centers right in the terminal.
Stress plays a major role in our overall health, contributing to everything from depression to heart disease. Over in Sweden, there are many initiatives intended to lower the collective stress level. Only 1 percent of the population works long hours, over 50 hours a week, and 92 percent of the population says they have someone to rely on in a time of need (compared to 73 percent of residents in nearby Turkey). With perfect scores for drinking water quality and access, waterborne diseases are something this country doesn't have to worry about. A diet high in fermented dairy products and low in sugar helps residents maintain nutritional health, while a Right of Public Access law written into their constitution gives all Swedish people the right to enjoy outdoor spaces, both public and private.
In case you were wondering how the United States ranked in this study...we came in 28th due to our country's high alcohol consumption, childhood obesity, and death due to violence.