You are here
Human Development Could be the Recipe for Olympic Success

Human Development Could be the Recipe for Olympic Success

Contributed by the Department of Nursing at University of Southern California

Olympic medal counts traditionally correlate with a country’s level of economic success. But while richer countries do tend to earn more medals, an infographic by Nursing@USC, the online FNP program at the University of Southern California, paints a more complex picture by putting a country’s Olympic performance in the context of its ranking on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

infographic_medal-counts-and-hdi (1)


The Human Development Index measures a country’s success not by pure economic product, but instead by the health and livelihood of its citizens, as determined by life expectancy at birth, education and per capita income. These are not the only factors that determine the health of a nation’s inhabitants, with gender parity, inequality and poverty levels notably excluded from the HDI formula. But, the index is nonetheless a useful, albeit imperfect, measure of quality of life within countries.

According to the chart, a country’s HDI ranking does appear to connect positively with Olympic success levels. The trend shows that nations with a minimum of 15 medals all fall above the global average HDI ranking of 0.776, with the exception of China and Brazil. This doesn’t prove causation, but it does show that nations that enact policies aimed at improving citizen health see myriad payoffs that can potentially include increased athletic prowess.

The chart’s findings also highlight notable outliers. China, for example, has the second-highest medal count for 2016, but an HDI just below the global average. This indicates that while the nation’s policies are undoubtedly economically beneficial, they are not furthering the overall health of the population.

For countries that fall within the trend, it’s easy to see why high HDI levels may help promote Olympic success. Citizens with higher qualities of life have more opportunities and resources to pursue fitness, giving countries greater ability to develop athletes and support their entrance into global competition. Professionals working in medical and social work fields in any country — whether as a doctor, counselor or family nurse practitioner — are directly responsible for implementing these measures that can prove advantageous via education about topics like disease prevention and mental and physical health.

While the HDI can shed light on the conditions of life within nations that garner high medal counts, its determining factors are far from the only elements that contribute to public health. Political stability, economic development and other forms of inequality can hugely impact a population’s opportunities and resources. Looking not just at countries’ medal counts, but also at their overall political and cultural situations complicates the claim that Olympic competition is an athletic meritocracy. Instead, it suggests it is actually a reflection on the varying qualities of life in today’s unequal global landscape.


Nursing@USC is the online FNP program at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The program prepares family nurse practitioners to treat physical and behavioural health, address social and environmental factors, and lead positive social change.


Featured image: Rio 2016, Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons

The following two tabs change content below.

Guest Author/s

Our guest authors come from a diverse range of international development backgrounds. If you'd like to submit a blog to WhyDev check out our submissions guidelines on the website.

Latest posts by Guest Author/s (see all)

Related posts

2 thoughts on “Human Development Could be the Recipe for Olympic Success

  1. Patrick

    WhyDev – please take more care in what you allow posted here; you risk losing credibility. Firstly, the US is listed as having an HDI of 0.793, yet the data cited on the chart state that the US has an HDI of 0.931. A pretty glaring error. Secondly, it’s a stretch to claim positive correlation with that data set. A claim like that should at least be backed up with some statistical analysis proof. Good intentions are not enough. I’m less likely to trust or even read articles on your site because of such glaring lack of quality control. Credibility can be lost by small events like this.

    1. Hi Patrick, thanks for pointing out the error. It has now been updated.

Comments are closed.