How's Life? When Well-Being Is Measured, the US Falls Short

By Marilynn Preston

October 20, 2015 6 min read

The U.S. is super terrific at tracking jobs added or lost, personal income and corporate profits, but when it comes to our individual well-being, not so much. Now I understand why.

According to "How's Life 2015?" a comprehensive new report that measures and compares citizen well-being around the world, the U.S. is underperforming in embarrassing ways, lagging way behind most advanced countries in areas where we could be, should be, doing so much better.

"The U.S. ranks at the bottom in terms of child health outcomes," according to the statistical evidence gathered by the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, around since 1961. "Infant mortality [in the U.S.] is among the highest in the OECD."

Life expectancy (78.8 years) lies below the OECD average of 79.9 years.

The U.S. has the second highest rate of deaths due to assault among all OECD countries.

The literacy and numeracy skills of American adults are low compared to those of adults in other OECD countries.

Our teens are in the poorest health of any country measured.

And we rank number one at being fat. Compared to Australia, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Estonia, France and everyone else in the alphabetized list of 34 nations, the United States is home to the most obese adults AND children. Over 35 percent of Americans are overweight, and what the report doesn't say is that this is crushing our health care system, sending medical costs soaring,

You can't blame the messengers. The OECD is a "unique forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other as well as with more than 70 other non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity and sustainable development."

This latest "How's Life" report — free online at www.oecd.org, with a nifty interactive component — is the third well-being review they've done since 2011, the first to measure the well-being of children. It's not a pretty picture. Kids around the world are suffering, more and more, "paying a high price for growing inequality" is the language the OECD uses, hoping to educate, not offend.

"After seven years of crisis, governments around the world are focused on growth, growth, growth," the OECD's Secretary-General Angela Gurria said recently at the 5th World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico.

" But it is precisely at this time of recovery and reassessment ... that it becomes even more vital than ever to remind ourselves what we want that growth for. We must recognize that growth is not an end it itself, but a means to increase the well-being of our people and our societies."

The OECD is a world alliance of thinkers and doers. It isn't into pointing fingers or laying blame — that's where I come in.

"We have long known that there is more to life than GDP," he continued. "The world is crying out for broader measures of success that truly reflect the impact that our policies and economies are having on the essentials of life: from our well-being to the natural environment."

And how does the OECD measure well-being? The framework they developed in 2011 focuses on 11 key aspects of life. I'm going to name them all because these are all important to your own well-being. Resist skimming the list. Read and repeat:

Housing, income and wealth, jobs and earnings, social connections, education and skills, environmental quality, civic engagement and governance, health status, subjective well-being, personal security, and work-life balance.

So how's your life?

"How's Life 2015?" is a major undertaking of many pages. I've only mentioned the dark side when it comes to the U.S. To our well-being credit, we're doing very well on material comforts, rooms per person, basic sanitation, and our average earnings and net household financial wealth.

And there's one more thing we Americans can feel good about. We volunteer. Over 55 percent of the American working-age population say they engage in formal volunteering, far above the OECD average of 34.2 percent.

When you do good, you feel good. Volunteering boosts the well-being of the person and the society. That's something we can be proud of.

The sickest teens of all the 34 democracies in our class? Not so much. ENERGY EXPRESS-O! WE CAN DO BETTER

"When it comes to well-being, no country has it all. ... It's time now that governments start to use the evidence to design better policies for better lives!." — Angel Gurria

Marilynn Preston — healthy lifestyle expert, well-being coach and Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to [email protected] She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at youtube.com/EnExTV and facebook.com/EnExTV. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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