Czechs may not be so unhealthy, after all

Experts question the methodology of a recent report naming Czechs as least healthy

A study claiming that Czechs are the most unhealthy people in the world has been dismissed by some Czech experts as being flawed. Still, the same experts say Czechs should lead healthier lifestyles.

The study, released by Clinic Compare, used data on drinking, smoking, and obesity to conclude that the Czech Republic had the most unhealthy people in the world, with much of Central and Eastern Europe not far behind.

The same survey found that Afghanistan, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Nepal had the world's healthiest people.

The study's surprising results spread quickly, being covered by UK papers The Evening Standard and The Independent, plus dozens of other websites and publications worldwide, with few people questioning the results.

Other studies on the same topic have come to different conclusions. News agency Bloomberg earlier in 2017 ranked the Czech Republic in the top 20 percent, healthwise.

Clinic Compare is a website that offers price comparisons for cosmetic surgery and other voluntary procedures, It is not a survey or research firm. They based the results on second-hand figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), the CIA World Factbook and the World Lung Association.

Websites not specialized in data research often put out controversial top 10 lists or surveys to drive web traffic back to their sites. The topics are usually inconsequential though, such as the most beautiful libraries, global beer prices or cultural romantic preferences.

The Clinic Compare survey states: “The Czech Republic was exposed as the most unhealthy country in the world. The nation’s citizens emerged as some of the heaviest drinkers, each consuming a massive 13.7 liters of pure alcohol every year. … The country also ranked 11th highest for the number of cigarettes smoked each year, despite having some of the strictest laws on tobacco purchase and consumption in the EU.”

On the other end of the scale, it praised some unlikely candidates. “Residents of Afghanistan were named the healthiest, having the second lowest rate of obesity in the world. … The country also ranked in the bottom 20 for the number of cigarettes smoked per year (just 83) and drunk one of the smallest amounts of alcohol in the world, owing to the country’s ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol. African nations also fared well, with countries such as Malawi, Niger and Ethiopia among the 10 least unhealthy populations in the world,” the survey said.

Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD) went to health experts to dig a bit deeper into the health survey.

Doctor Martin Matoulek, a weight specialist, rejected the conclusions. He told MfD that studies like this one are not usually based on truly comparable data collected with the same methodology. “I doubt they compared similar data,” he said, adding that the latest reliable obesity data from the Czech Republic comes from 2013.

Matoulek pointed out that the Czech Republic was following obesity trends of most of the developed world, and that the situation has stagnated in recent years. Still, it is an issue, especially with the younger generation.

Nutrition expert Zuzana Arnoštová told MfD that the study didn't properly compare rich and poor countries. “Each country has completely different conditions, including the inclusion of visitors in the study, which distorts the results,” she said. The eating, drinking and smoking habits of tourists on vacation get mixed in with those of the local population, for example.

Addiction specialist Dr. Karel Nešpor of the Psychiatric Hospital in Prague-Bohnice said the ranking of the whole country was not so important. Instead, individual people should focus on living healthier lifestyles. In particular, he was concerned about drinking among young people. He said that the amount of alcohol consumed is a lot, and it has a long-term impact on people.

News agency Bloomberg published a Global Health Index earlier in 2017 and concluded that Italy was the healthiest country in the world. Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia filled in the rest of the top five. They based their survey on life expectancy, causes of death and health risks ranging from high blood pressure and tobacco use to malnutrition and the availability of clean water.

The Czech Republic came in 30th out of 163 countries in the Bloomberg index, placing it just inside the top 20 percent.

Seven of the 11 countries designated as the unhealthiest in the Clinic Compare survey was listed among the 50 healthiest countries in the Bloomberg index.

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