Even in decidedly "wealthy" countries, human health is not always guaranteed. In fact, studies show that the best indicator of a country's health is not its overall wealth, but how that wealth is distributed. Time Magazine's Maia Szalavitz reports:
Imagine there was one changeable factor that affected virtually every measure of a country's health- including life expectancy, crime rates, addiction, obesity, infant mortality, stroke, academic achievement, happiness and even overall prosperity. Indeed, this factor actually exists.
It's called economic inequality. A growing body of research suggests that such inequality - more so than income or absolute wealth alone — has a profound influence on a population's health, in every socioeconomic group from rich to middle class to poor.
Economic inequality is measured by looking at the distribution of wealth and income in a society, not the general wealth of a country. At a basic level, a country's overall economic success does predict its people's well-being, but the healthiest and happiest countries in the world are not the richest. Rather, they are countries where wealth is shared widely and more equally.
One of the most obvious ways that economic equality may improve a country's overall health is by improving access to health care for all of its citizens, but Szalavitz writes that poor overall health manages to persist, "even in countries with national health services." So from where, exactly, does the negative correlation between economic inequality and public health stem?
"The roots of the problem," write Szalavitz,"appear to reach deeper than [access to public health care]. Indeed, they may go back to the dominance hierarchies of our primate ancestors."