The Countries With The Best And Worst Food Systems

The U.S. has pretty cheap food, but its health and quality leaves a lot to be desired–especially compared to just about every nation in Europe.

The Netherlands is the best place to eat overall, Chad the worst. The USA has the cheapest food in the world compared to the price of other goods, but falls down for food-related health problems. Cambodia has the healthiest food, but a lot of malnourished people as well.


These are a few headlines from a new report that aims to give a rounded picture of national food systems. The study from Oxfam, a U.K. nonprofit, combines data for food availability, affordability, quality, and health outcomes. European nations mostly do best, with Holland, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, and Belgium taking the top spots. The first non-European country is Australia, in eighth place.

Image: French cheese shop via Shutterstock

At the other end of the rankings of 125 countries are mostly African nations, with Ethiopia, Angola, and Madagascar after Chad. Yemen is the worst-performing non-African country, in 121st place. These countries suffer from high food costs and price volatility, poor conditions for food preparation, and food that lacks nutritional quality.

Many richer countries do well for some things, but not others. The U.S. is in 21st place, because although we have cheap food, we score poorly for quality and health issues. On the latter measure alone, the U.S. ranks in 120th place, with similar rates of obesity and diabetes as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. That’s largely because of diets in poorer communities, where “processed, high-fat foods are often significantly cheaper than fruit and vegetables.” Canada is in 25th place.

Image: Austrian market via Shutterstock

“Obesity is a growing challenge in the fight to ensure that everybody is able to eat healthily with more than a billion people now overweight or obese,” the report says. “This figure illustrates a broken global food system in which consumers suffer from both under nutrition and obesity–often in the same countries or communities.”


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.