The Netherlands tops just about every metric of national performance, from civil liberties and average income, to quality of life and even happiness. So perhaps it is no surprise that even its access to plentiful, nutritional food is among the highest in the world too, according to a recent report by Oxfam, an international humanitarian organization based in the U.K.
The study was compiled in fall 2013 and drew on data from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Foundation, the International Labour Organization, and other groups. The score is based on the sum of several factors, ranging from food prices to the rate of malnutrition and diet-based diseases; Oxfam cautions that the conclusion is not comprehensive of any one nation, but is a general ranking (e.g. regional disparities can exist within countries).
To quote The Guardian:
The Netherlands [has] created a good market that enables people to get enough to eat. Prices are relatively low and stable and the type of food people are eating is balanced,” Deborah Hardoon, a senior researcher at Oxfam who compiled the results, said in an interview.
“They’ve got the fundamentals right and in a way that is better than most other countries all over the world.”
Oxfam ranked the nations on the availability, quality and affordability of food and dietary health. It also looked at the percentage of underweight children, food diversity and access to clean water, as well as negative health outcomes such as obesity and diabetes.
European countries dominated the top of the ranking but Australia squeezed into the top 12, tying with Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg at No. 8.
Low food prices and low levels of diabetes played a major role in the Netherlands’ high ranking. Such a good diet is partly why the Dutch are among the longest-lived people on Earth, as well as some of the tallest on average.
France and Switzerland were runners up, while the U.K. landed in 13th place and the United States and Japan tied for 21st. Although America ranked high in the affordability and quality of food, its rating was pulled down by the high levels of obesity and diabetes; Japan fared poorly mostly on the relatively high price of food.
In last place was Chad, which often ranks in the bottom five of most reports on human development and prosperity. The African nation scored particularly bad for the cost of food and the number of underweight children — 34 percent. Only the West African countries of Guinea and the Gambia did worse in food prices, both falling at the lower end of the ranking.
Most of the bottom 30 countries in the Oxfam report were in Africa, followed by South Asian countries like Laos (112), Bangladesh (102), Pakistan (97) and India (97); in terms of nutrition and underweight children, Burundi (119), Yemen (121), Madagascar (122) and India have the worst rankings.
But there is a more important conclusion to draw from the study than the Netherlands’ impressive performance (which can nonetheless serve as a case study). Quoting The Guardian once more:
Oxfam said the latest figures show 840 million people go hungry every day, despite there being enough food for the hungry. It called for changes in the way food is produced and distributed around the world.
The causes of hunger, it added, include a lack of investment in infrastructure in developing nations and in small-scale agriculture, security, prohibitive trading agreements, biofuel targets that divert crops from food to fuel and the impact of climate change.
Research suggests that climate change could raise the number of people at risk of hunger by 20 to 50 percent by 2050, according to the group.
“This index quite clearly indicates that despite the fact of there being enough food in the world we are still not able to feed everybody in all the countries around the world,” said Hardoon.
“If we had a more equal distribution of wealth and resources, and particularly food, this wouldn’t be a problem,” she added.
It is a moral tragedy that hundreds of millions of people are scarred by hunger and malnutrition despite there being more than enough food to go around (such that an estimated one-third is wasted around the world, especially in the U.S., U.K., and other developed countries).
Good on the Dutch and other developed-world societies for mostly resolving all-too familiar human problem — now to apply their strategies and approaches on a global scale.