Country profile

The Netherlands is a relatively small country in the northwest of Europe, with a nominal per capita GDP of $56,435 (2018 est.). With a population of 17.1 million, the Netherlands has the highest population density of the EU countries after Malta. The country is divided into twelve administrative provinces, which are further parted into 430 municipalities. The Netherlands also encompasses three Caribbean islands, which are considered special municipalities.

Life expectancy at birth was 81.6 years in 2015. The Dutch health system is one of the most expensive in the EU. Health spending in the Netherlands is high: EUR 3 954 per head in 2015, compared to the EU average of EUR 2 797. This is 10.7% of GDP and the fourth highest in the EU.  In 2014, almost a quarter of those without upper secondary education were daily smokers compared to 11% of those with higher degrees. Likewise, over 15% of those with lower education were obese compared to 8.6% with higher education.


Policy responses

The issue of health inequalities has been present on the Dutch political agenda since the end of the 1980s thanks to the construction of two investigative commissions initiated by the Ministry of Health as a part of the Program Committee on Socioeconomic Health Differences. Since then, the issue of health inequalities has been integrated into the overall health strategy. Policies seeking to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in health at individual and population level have been well developed, with recent initiatives seeking to explicitly address inequalities at the local level, such as the national programme Health in the City (2014).

A particular feature of the situation in the Netherlands is a national strategy with the aim to reduce health inequalities in large cities. The main target of this policy is to bridge the health gaps in terms of average life expectancy and avoidable inequalities. Different actions to address health inequalities are implemented at local level, with different levels of effectiveness and impact, the most active cities working in this issue being Amsterdam, Den Haag, Utrecht and Rotterdam. The National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) is responsible for monitoring the progress of achievement of the target to extending healthy life expectancy of the lower income groups by 25% of the current difference (3 years) by 2020.

An overview of policy responses addressing health inequalities in can be found in our Policy Database.


Good practices

An overview of projects and initiatives that are currently taking place or that have successfully been finalized, and that are addressing health inequality issues, can be found in our Project Database.

Key actors

Please find below an overview of key actors in the Netherlands working on health inequality issues:


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Key resources

Please find below an overview of relevant documents addressing health inequality issues in the Netherlands. Further publications can be found in our Publications Database.


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