Oxfam Ranks Nations on Food-Related Health Outcomes

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SAN ANSELMO, California – Oxfam, the British anti-poverty organization, has ranked the Netherlands as the easiest country in the world in which to find healthy food. Researchers report that the nation has the most accessible nutritious food, with France and Switzerland both coming in second. Western European countries fill most of the top 20 spots, with only Australia ranking eighth.

Researchers at Oxfam analyzed eight reports from the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and ranked the countries by asking four questions:

1. Do citizens have enough food to eat? This question looks at the rate of undernourished and underweight children.

2. Can people afford to eat? Are nutritious foods affordable compared with other goods and are prices stable?

3. Is available food of good quality? Oxfam considered access to fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein and clean water in analyzing this question.

4. Do people experience negative health outcomes from their diet? Diabetes and obesity are indicators that people are suffering negative health results.

Wealthier countries had an advantage in the rankings because of the much greater availability of food, but looking at the food’s nutritional content and whether a country’s diet benefited or harmed citizens’ health hurt some more developed nations.

Though cheap food is abundant in the United States, the nation tied Japan for 21st place. The U.S. ranked 120th of 125 nations in how diet affects health.

Oxfam’s Max Lawson explains, “Food is very, very cheap in the U.S. compared to most countries. But the fact is you end up with people malnourished in one of the richest countries because they don’t have access to fresh vegetables at a cheap enough price to make a balanced diet.”

In the developing world, however, nations tended to have a very different problem.

The bottom 10 spots on the list are occupied almost exclusively by African nations. Food in these countries tends to be expensive and diets often rely on nutrient-poor foods such as simple carbohydrates. Chad, Ethiopia, and Angola were ranked at the bottom of the list largely due to high rates of malnutrition and high food costs.

High food prices also exact a significant human cost for people in poverty, who can spend upwards of 75 percent of their money on food.

Chad is ranked absolute last due to high food prices, a lack of healthy options and unsafe water for food preparation. Though there is enough food for everyone in Chad, Oxfam states, 33 percent of children in the country are underweight, and 840 million go hungry on a daily basis.

Lawson explains, “People think that hunger is inevitable, but that’s just not true…Even in countries with famines, there’s still often enough food. Someone is hoarding it, or it hasn’t been distributed.”

Levels of obesity were highest in some Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and lowest in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Though Cambodia is ranked best in the Unhealthy Eating category (diabetes and obesity figures,) when one adds figures about under nutrition and underweight children, it becomes clear that a low level of obesity can also mean a scarceness of food and should not therefore necessarily be considered a positive indicator of health.

Oxfam asserts that hunger is caused by insufficient investment in infrastructure and agriculture in developing nations, unfair trade deals, using crops for non-food related purposes such as bio-fuels, and the effects of climate change, which could raise the number of hungry people by 20 to 50 percent by 2050.

Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: NPR, Reuters, Oxfam
Photo: Oxfam America

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