The Netherlands is known for many things: cheese, windmills, and admittedly, their lax policy on marijuana. Recently, however, the country has danced once again onto the world stage for another reason: its health. The country ranked the healthiest out of 125 in Oxfam’s recent study, which compared several factors including food availability, obesity rates, and food quality. Here are several other reasons why the Netherlands is the healthiest country in the world.
Low food prices
Though supermarkets in Holland are undoubtedly smaller than those in the U.S., the country has a variety of other food sources — all mostly at lower prices than Holland’s European counterparts. One such example includes “farm shops,” which aren’t centrally listed but are nonetheless well-known. Here, locally sourced produce (e.g. fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, and products made on location) shine in season. For reference, 2.2 pounds of tomatoes cost approximately $2.85 in the Netherlands, and $3.50 in the U.S.
“The Netherlands have created a good market that enables people to get enough to eat,” said Deborah Hardoon, a senior researcher at Oxfam. “Prices are relatively low and stable, and the type of food people are eating is balanced. They’ve got the fundamentals right and in a way, that is better than most other countries all over the world.”
Low prevalence of diabetes
A balanced diet and exercise help lead to low rates of diabetes. With a population more than 16 million, the Netherlands has a high life expectancy (approximately 79 for men; 83 for women) and spends about $5,100 on each of its residents’ health annually. Statistically, 1 million people in the Netherlands have diabetes, and there are a variety of organizations — including the Dutch Diabetes Foundation and the Dutch Diabetes Association — that have ties to politicians and policymakers, insurers, and the general public. Many of these efforts and professional associations are put toward the prevention of type 2 diabetes in the country.
Though Dutch cuisine is traditionally thought of as straightforward, researchers found it plentiful in nutritional diversity. The country has a high ratio of vegetables to meat, and a variety of tillage-based crops (e.g. kale, cabbage, endives, Brussels sprouts) are eaten readily. The country is also well-known for its cheese, and famous for its consumption of herring; often eaten raw. “Having sufficient healthy and affordable food is not something that much of the world enjoys,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s Executive Director.
European countries are evaluated through 48 indicators including patient rights and information, accessibility, prevention, and outcomes. For the fourth year in a row, the Netherlands secured its top position among 35 European countries by scoring 870 of a maximum 1,000 points. Why has the country seen such continued success? Partly because of the government’s measures to ensure public health, as mandated by the Dutch constitution. In short, everyone is obliged to have health insurance and insurance companies are obliged to accept everyone. There are also laws to ensure that medical care is financially accessible for everyone, and that the government helps people who have difficulty covering their insurance and medical expenses. Overall, the Netherlands spends approximately 11.9 percent of GDP on health — second only to the U.S.