Secrets of the world's healthiest countries

Last updated 13:05 23/05/2013
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ON YER BIKE: The cycling culture contributes greatly to the overall health of the Dutch.

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The world's fattest country, if measured by Body Mass Index (BMI) is Kuwait, according to the Mail Online. With an average of 29.5 they are well above what's considered healthy. And, shockingly, New Zealand sits at seventh on the 'fattest country list'. 

"A healthy BMI for an adult is between 18.5 and 24.9 and it's calculated by dividing your weight by your height squared (BMI = weight / (height) x (height))," says Clinical Dietitian Dr Naras Lapsys of The Body Doctor.

So what lifestyle lessons can we learn from some of our healthier cousin countries?


In a country where bikes outnumber people, it's not surprising the Netherlands scored a healthier average BMI of 25.

"The Dutch do a large amount of incidental activity mostly done through active travel," says Adrian Bauman, a professor of public health of The University of Sydney. "40 per cent of the country travels by bike, those who drive a car are in the minority."

Renee Veldman-Tentori is an Australian living in the Netherlands and says the infrastructure of the major towns support this cycling obsession. "I cycled everywhere until the last week of my pregnancies and even now I put my kids in the bike trailer to get around," she says. Only the cold weather stops us a little, but then we just use public transport instead."

Healthy Tip - Increase incidental exercise. Leave the car at home and use public transport or walk to your destination on a more regular basis.


Japan performed exceptionally well, recording an average BMI of 22.5 and Kim Ferris who lived in Tokyo for 22 years says that obesity is virtually non-existent.

Portion control and eating a wide variety of foods are the foundation of a Japanese diet and boosts your intake of important vitamins and minerals. "A Japanese diet is high in the nutrient-rich soy and their daily consumption of fish offers a high omega 3 intake, all important for optimal health," says Dr Lapsys.

Ferris says each meal in a Japanese diet can consist of up to six teacup-sized portions of different foods with vegetables forming a large component of every meal. "Unusual foods such as Natto (fermented soy beans) and five or six varieties of seaweed are eaten daily. These are highly regarded by the Japanese for their health properties," she says.

Healthy Tip - Increase the variety of your diet. "Japanese people aim to eat 30-40 different things every day," says Ferris.


The Norwegians recorded an average BMI of 25.3 largely due to a culture that favours an active lifestyle. Infrastructure such as indoor stadiums and outdoor lighting encourage locals to get out and about even in the winter months. "Things like hiking, cycling, kayaking, skiing and fishing are all regular pastimes in Norway," says Professor Bauman.

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A typical Norwegian is home from work at 4pm for an early dinner before heading out to play sport or participate in another form of exercise.

The sale of alcohol is also regulated by the government and highly taxed, making it unaffordable for many Norwegians, and this contributes to their healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Tip - Limit alcohol intake. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommend no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related diseases such as heart and liver disease.


The pizzas, pastas and gelato of a typical Italian diet are delicious, but when made in the traditional way they can also be healthy giving the Italians a 25.1 average BMI.

"The Mediterranean diet of a typical Italian is high in olive oil, legumes, unprocessed carbohydrates, fish, fruit and vegetables," says Professor Bauman. "These high fibre and protein rich foods have many benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes," adds Dr Lapsys.

Luca Zandona is an Italian living in Sydney and says that cooking and eating are a way of life in his home country. "I've never seen anyone in my family eat takeaway except for the occasional pizza," he says.

Healthy Tip - Get into some home cooking and reduce your intake of unhealthy and highly processed fast foods. Cook in bulk and freeze meals as a convenient alternative to takeaway.

- FFX Aus


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