It’s a 50/50 America again. This time, half of us are thriving, and half of us are struggling.

News of that Great American Chasm is brought to you by the Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index.

I wrote about The Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index in March here when the project was first announced. The profile of the collective American mind-body-spirit was unveiled yesterday based on the poll’s first 100,000 interviews.

It’s not a pretty picture.

According to the survey’s definition, people who are thriving:

  • having basic needs met (food, clothing, shelter)
  • earn higher incomes
  • have lower burdens of disease
  • report fewer sick days
  • enjoy better working environments.

More of those who thrive are now struggling. The proportion of Americans thriving was 60% in 2006; this year, it is down to 49%.

Those people who are struggling are growing in numbers, from 37% of the population two years ago, to nearly half (47%) in 2008.

The health impacts of misery are profound. The survey results support the fact that misery underpins a cycle of chronic disease. The data illustrates this reality:

  • Nearly two-thirds are obese or overweight (25 percent obese, 40 percent overweight)
  • Two-thirds report one or more chronic diseases or recurring conditions
  • More than 20 percent report they are not able to perform their usual activities on one or more days last month due to illness; this group was out sick from work 6 days in the last 30
  • Workers with one to three diseases and/or conditions report they cannot carry out their usual activities on 13.5 days each year.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: At yesterday’s public launch of the Index, Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), spoke about the massive public health implications of the survey. Dr. James Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management and well-being, said, “Just as the U.S is not No. 1 when it comes to health measures, it also is not No. 1 in well-being.”

People are struggling. Those of us who work and live in the real world are well aware of these connections. But to have them codified and aggregated in the way that this project is doing could provide the visual and empirical proof that will motivate policymakers and employers to address the health crisis in America. As important, citizens should be moved and motivated by these findings to act on both their personal health and to demand protection of the collective public’s health. All the public’s health.

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