Sudanese refugee mother has a daily struggle to feed her children in the Birak refugee camp, Chad. Photo by Cynthia Jones/World Food Program via Getty Images.
Fit, healthy Australians. Sleek, cycling Dutch. Icelanders living on dried fish.
Not so much, says a new survey, Good Enough to Eat, released Wednesday by Oxfam, compiled from data gathered by international organizations.
It’s a global food index that weighs the most important factors of dietary health, including affordability, quantity, diversity and nutritiousness of food, as well as a country’s rate of obesity and diabetes. And it has turned up some surprising results.
Where's the best place to eat?
The Netherlands. And the much-touted French and Swiss come in second.
Canada ranks only 25th of 125 countries, thanks to growing obesity and “unhealthy eating.”
The problem is more than a plethora of poutine. “Even in a wealthy country like Canada there’s a big gap between what people need and what they get,” says Oxfam Canada’s Robert Fox, pointing out that aboriginal communities suffer most, and in Nunavut more than half of children live in food insecurity. Fox calls for a “national food policy” in Canada, and an overseas aid policy that is focused on women food producers.
But food problems are often complex, the report points out.
While the Dutch have the highest overall rating – and a well-known fondness for riding bicycles – they score lower on the obesity measure, with 19 per cent of people surveyed classed as fat. (Too many Dutch treats?)
Even worse is Australia, whose svelte beach bunny image is blown away by an obesity rate of 27 per cent. And 9 per cent of Australians also have diabetes.
At the very bottom of the unhealthy eating scale, strangely, are wealthy Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which rate an “F” for obesity and diabetes.
Icelanders, not noted for grand cuisine, rate at the top of the food quality and diet diversity scale, in spite of their limited farm land and relatively high food prices.
But sadly, it’s all too easy to predict those at the bottom end of the index.
Impoverished Chad – home to hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees – is lowest overall, with food that’s too little and too dear. It also has scant nutritional value, and is kept in unsanitary conditions. One child in three is underweight.
Meanwhile Angola, also near the bottom of the scale, suffers the highest level of food price volatility, except for inflation-battered Zimbabwe. In Angola, “60 per cent of people’s diet is made up of simple carbohydrates and almost half the population do not have access to clean water” to prepare food safely.
In Burundi, a whopping 67 per cent of people are undernourished, and 35 per cent of children are underweight. A number of other African countries have scores that are little better.
One surprise: the worst score for underweight children is in “Asian tiger” India – some 44 per cent of kids have lower than normal weight, making them vulnerable to stunting and learning disabilities.
“Inequality, weak distribution, failed markets and poor governance mean that people in many countries go to bed hungry, especially women,” says Oxfam, calling for “urgent reform of the way food is produced and distributed around the world to put an end to this scandal.”
Olivia Ward has covered countries from the former Soviet Union, Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.