S'pore among smaller countries topping global wellness lists

LONDON • Smaller countries such as Singapore are increasingly dominating the top of the global wellness lists while big countries with booming economies fall behind.

This trend is evident in the latest assessment on global living standards that try to gauge how healthy, happy and successful humans are depending on where they live.

The Global Wellness Index published by investment firm LetterOne, ranks Canada as the best country out of the 151 nations. Asian countries dominated the top 10 spots: Philippines (4), Maldives (5), Singapore (7), Laos (8), South Korea (9) and Cambodia (10).

The United States trails far behind, coming in at 37.

In a tighter ranking of Group of 20 nations combined with the 20 most populous countries on the planet, South Africa comes in last, below Ukraine, Egypt and Iraq.

Based on metrics ranging from government healthcare spending to rates of depression, alcohol use, smoking, happiness and exercise, the new index is the latest attempt by economists to evaluate the world beyond economic growth.

A common thread in both surveys, and others like them, is that the top ranks are increasingly filled with smaller countries.

This may be tied to researchers developing new metrics for the modern world, measures that do not necessarily correlate economic health with real health at the expense of other barometers.

The Global Wellness Index, compiled by Mr Richard Davies, a former Bank of England and UK Treasury economist, ranks Canada highly due to its good scores for blood pressure, life expectancy and government healthcare spending, but it also pays close attention to the country's high happiness levels.

South Africa, once a beacon of economic growth, scores poorly for life expectancy, alcohol use, depression and diabetes.

In the overall list, several major economies struggle when ranked against smaller, healthier countries. The global top 10 includes large nations such as the Philippines and South Korea, but also finds room for Oman, Iceland, Maldives, Netherlands and Singapore.

Big countries such as Japan, Germany, France and Italy failed to make the new survey's global top 25, with all four faring poorly for rates of high blood pressure. Middle Eastern countries ranked relatively high, due to good scores in the alcohol category. The US was hampered by excessive obesity, depression, inactivity and other items, Mr Davies said.

Data was gleaned from standard sources, including the World Health Organisation's Global Health Observatory.

"While rich countries tend to lead, many emerging economies score more highly than some advanced nations. This is down to huge increases in life expectancy in these countries in recent years," Mr Davies said, pointing also to the high rates of depression and obesity in advanced countries.

Economies of the future may end up being judged on three levels, Mr Davies said. Those could include traditional measures of the whole economy, such as gross domestic product and employment rates; indicators that point to how equitable and fair a country is; and a new layer including measures of health, happiness and well-being.

"The challenge is that this top layer may be both the one the public care most about and the hardest to measure," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore among smaller countries topping global wellness lists'. Print Edition | Subscribe