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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #119, July 2009. Copyright 2009, Left Business Observer.

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How American awfulness stacks up

Americans may be some of the least healthy people in the rich part of this world, but we sure do feel good about ourselves!

That’s one of the more interesting revelations in the 2009 edition of the OECD’s Social Indicators. Americans lead the world in obesity, lag the world in life expectancy and infant mortality—yet 89% of us report ourselves to be in excellent health, just behind the world’s biggest health-boasters, New Zealanders, who beat us by a point in self-reported health, but who outlive us by more than two years.

This report got some coverage in our surviving newspapers, but most of the stories focused on the not-uninteresting news that the French spend more time than Americans sleeping and eating. But, of course, that shows what layabouts and sensualists they are. What the stories didn’t disclose is that we look like an overworked people with a dim future—aside from being some of the least healthy people in the richer neighborhoods of planet earth.

The general picture of the social and physical health of the U.S. isn’t pretty. In a summary table at the beginning of the volume, countries are rated with a red, yellow, or green symbol, depending on whether they fall in the bottom, middle, or top of the rankings on eight crucial indicators. The U.S. scores a yellow on six (among them employment, reading skills, the gender wage gap, and life expectancy), and a r