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Iceland tops a new ranking of the world’s healthiest countries, in a vast new study.

Published in The Lancet, the study assesses 33 health-related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators in 188 countries across 25 years.

The healthiest countries

One year into the SDGs, the results present a global picture of the progress made on the Millennium Development Goals, and the work still needed to achieve the Global Goals.

Using the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study 2015, the research examines health in countries around the world to create a global ranking. The indicators are ranked from 0-100, with 0 being the worst, and 100 the best.

To explain some of their findings and methods, the study’s authors created an infographic, the full version of which is available here.

 2015 Snapshot: Highest, median and lowest SDG index scores for 2015
Image: The Lancet

Iceland, Sweden and Singapore top the ranking, with overall scores of 85 out of 100.

Iceland just takes top spot – by one decimal place. The report singles out the country’s tobacco control measures, and its publicly funded healthcare as major factors in its number one position. The top five is completed by Andorra and the UK. The full ranking is available in the report (pdf).

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Where health has got better – and worse

In the past 15 years, there has been significant progress across the indicators – and overall.

Universal healthcare has shown the greatest improvement, followed by family planning and hygiene. There have also been reductions in deaths among mothers and children aged under five.

The bad news is that on some indicators progress has actually reversed. Scores for hepatitis B, alcohol consumption and overweight children are now worse than they were in 2000.

 Progress 2000-2015
Image: The Lancet

The authors highlight the work needed to make the SDGs a reality.

“Although considerable progress on the health-related MDG indicators has been made, these gains will need to be sustained and, in many cases, accelerated to achieve the ambitious SDG targets,” they write.

The link between health and income, education and fertility

The authors also examined the link between the health-related indicators and the socio-demographic Index. This index is a measure based on income per person, average educational attainment in the population over 15, and total fertility rate.

 Sustainable Development Goals and the Socio-demographic Index
Image: The Lancet

The correlation between the two is clear. As the results show, the health-related indicators are predictable based on the index.

That doesn’t mean the correlation is perfect, however. The authors point out that some countries perform better than their predicted score, while some perform worse.

The challenges ahead

The work needed to achieve the SDGs is significant, as countries around the world look to build effective and sustainable health systems.

Indeed, a World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group report opens by emphasizing: “Building sustainable health systems in emerging economies is one of the biggest challenges of our time.”

The report suggests ‘leapfrogging’ as a solution, as emerging economies use technology and innovation to bypass some of the traditional development stages.

 Emerging economies must avoid the tradition development path of health systems
Image: World Economic Forum

But, as The Lancet study shows, progress is needed in economies around the world, whether emerging or developed.

As we enter the second year of the SDGs, it’s clear there’s still plenty of work to do.