April 29, 2008 / 8:49 PM / 9 years ago

Many Americans struggling in life, survey finds

<p>Fans don their rain gear as they watch the Chicago Bears play the Indianapolis Colts in the first half of the NFL's Super Bowl XLI football game in Miami, Florida, February 4, 2007.Mike Segar</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many Americans are struggling through life but only 4 percent are truly miserable, with no hope for the future, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

Nearly half -- 49 percent -- describe themselves as thriving, with few health or money worries, according to the researchers at the global polling organization Gallup and health consulting firm Healthways.

The survey of more than 100,000 people is an unprecedented in-depth look at the health, wealth and happiness of the U.S. population, the researchers said.

"You are getting the detail of what it is like to live in this country," Daniel Kahneman, a professor emeritus at Princeton University in New Jersey, told a news conference.

The survey found that 47 percent of those polled can be considered struggling, mostly with worries about money.

The 4 percent defined as "suffering" generally lacked food or shelter, and also had no hope of improvement in the future.

Gallup's James Harter said this compares to Denmark, where 83 percent of people appear to be thriving and fewer than 1 percent struggling. In Cambodia, the situation is the opposite, with only 2 percent thriving, according to other surveys.

"Part of what this will allow us to do is diagnose at a local level where intervention should occur," Harter said.

The ongoing survey -- the researchers are calling 1,000 people a day -- provides enormous detail into what kinds of illnesses people have and how they affect their lives.

They are asking 70 different questions about well-being. These include questions about diagnosed diseases and daily physical discomfort, employment and income but also subjective questions about mood and happiness.

Dr. Virginia Gurley, senior medical director of Healthways, said the results can directly inform the political debate on health care, the future of programs such as Medicare and even international trade. "We are having trouble competing because of the cost of health care and its effects," Gurley said.

NEW HEALTH CARE DEBATE

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the findings can help launch a new approach to health care in the United States.

"We are investing the most of any country in the world -- $2 trillion -- and we rank 37th in terms of health," Gerberding told the news conference.

Healthways President Ben Leedle said 51 percent of Americans are stuck in a cycle of chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes, in part because of their poor choices.

"Many are stressed, worried and overweight, all factors which lead to illness and, ultimately, lifelong health conditions," Leedle added.

For example, two-thirds of workers report one or more chronic diseases or recurring conditions, and more than 20 percent said they were out sick at least one day and on average six days in the previous month.

Workers with one to three diseases said they were unable to carry out their usual activities on 13.5 days each year. For workers with four or more disease conditions such as diabetes or heart disease this rises to more than 50 days a year.

The survey also provides insight into how misfortune begets more misfortune. "People who have asthma or who have diabetes are more subject to headaches and colds," Kahneman said.

Smokers really stand out, Kahneman said. "The impact on well-being is very, very striking," he said.

For example, 54 percent of smokers with a chronic health condition such as diabetes or heart disease reported having experienced "a lot of" stress the previous day, compared to 38 percent of non-smokers with similar health problems.

Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman

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