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What If The World Cup Were Awarded For Saving Trees And Drinking Soda?

Leif Parsons for NPR

The World Cup is down to four teams: Argentina, Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands. We've seen how these nations perform on the soccer field. But how do they perform in the fields of health and development?


The big loser in the semifinals of the World Cup is also lagging behind on the poverty ladder. Roughly 10 percent of Brazil's population — 20 million people — live on less than $2 a day. In Argentina, the figure is below 2 percent. In Germany and the Netherlands, it's basically zero. No wonder Brazilians were so upset that the government spent billions of dollars on soccer stadiums.

Life Expectancy

There's a tie for first place here. The average German and Dutch citizen can expect to live to age 81. In Argentina, the number is 76. Bringing up the rear once again is Brazil, at 74. But all four nations are relatively close to the country with the highest life expectancy: Japan, at 83 years. And they're decades ahead of the country with the lowest: Sierra Leone, at 45.


Who's been hacking down the most trees? In terms of deforestation rate, the loser is Argentina, which has been clearing nearly 1 percent of its trees each year for the past decade. Next worst is Brazil, which has been felling about 1/2 of 1 percent of its forested land annually. But because Brazil has more forested land than the other three countries — 2 million square miles, including the Amazon — it's the loser in terms of total trees chopped. Germany has been perfectly conserving its forested land for a decade — a zero percent change. And the Netherlands is actually slowly growing its forests.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Germany is the biggest polluter of the four by a wide margin: 745,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Next is Brazil at 420,000. Argentina and the Netherlands are neck and neck, with Argentina emitting slightly less CO 2 per year: 181,000 to 182,000. Just as they did in the World Cup semifinal, the Argentines have managed to edge out the Dutch.

Goats And Soda

Okay, so goats and soda are not actual development indicators. But when you're writing for a blog called "Goats and Soda," how can you ignore them? And they're certainly fun to think about. In terms of soda consumption, Argentina takes the cake — and washes it down with a Coke. Argentines consume, on average, around 38 gallons of soda a year. That's more than one 12-ounce can a day. Next comes Germany, at 25.6 gallons. Brazil slurps down 21, and the Netherlands 18. None of these countries, however, can touch the United States, where the average person downs more than 42 gallons of soda a year. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Last but not least, meat. It's a bit harder to award a trophy for goat eating. Goat is combined with mutton in meat consumption statistics. In that category, the Dutch are the winners: 4.7 pounds per person per year. For overall meat consumption, Argentina claims first place by devouring 202 pounds of meat a person each year — more than half a pound of meat per day. Next is Germany at 194 pounds, then Brazil at 178, and the Netherlands at 156.

And The Winner Is ...

Unlike the real World Cup, there's no clear winner in our health and development tournament. Germany and the Netherlands lead in most categories — no surprise there — followed by Argentina. Brazil lags behind. But if you look at improvementsover the past decade, Brazil comes out on top in many categories. For example, the nation has cut its infant mortality rates from 5.2 percent to 1.3 percent over the past two decades — a 75 percent reduction. No other nation in the final four can make that claim.

Sources: The World Bank, Euromonitor International

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