Give Americans credit for one thing — a healthy perception of our own health. And when we say healthy, we mean healthy.
Among developed countries, more Americans report they are healthy than any country in the developed world.
Ninety percent of Americans say they are in good health. This despite a host of health indicators that suggest we are not.
That's one of a series of interesting data points in the annual comparative health survey done by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development.
The organization has been comparing the health statistics of 27 nations since 1960, so it can trace trends and costs.
One of the obvious trends is just how life expectancy in those countries has changed over 50 years.
A child born in the United States today can expect to live an average of 8.3 years longer than one born in 1960, to an average age of 78.2.
Other countries, however, have made far more progress than the U.S., which is in the middle of the pack for life expectancy.
The average child born in Japan today will live to 83, an increase of 15.2 years since 1960, the longest life expectancy in the world.
This is, of course, a blessing for us as individuals, but it is an ominous trend for the balance sheets of most industrialized countries.
Across the world, people are outliving the actuarial tables upon which corporate and national pension systems are based. Meanwhile, they are having fewer children.
That means there are fewer and fewer workers supporting more elderly people who are living longer each year.
When it comes to healthy habits, the U.S. fares better in some categories than others.
We have made remarkable strides in reducing adult smoking. About 16 percent of U.S. adults now smoke, compared to nearly 40 percent in Greece.
We are in the mid-range among nations for alcohol consumption, an average of 9.1 liters per year for U.S. adults, compared to a low of 3.8 liters in Korea and a high of 12.3 liters in France.
Our biggest health-care threat may be obesity. A low of 3.8 percent of adults are obese in Korea compared to 33.8 percent in the U.S.
But we stand head and shoulders above the rest in one metric, cost, and that's a very big long-term problem for the U.S.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, the U.S. began to quickly outstrip the world in the share of GDP spent on health care.
By 2009, our spending had increased five fold since 1960, leaving us far above the world's other nations at an average of $7,960 per person. That's 50 percent higher than the next highest nation, Norway ($5,352) and more than twice the OECD average ($3,233).
The public sector is the main source of health care funding in all of the surveyed nations except Mexico, Chile and the United States.
It's hard to dispute that countries with national health care systems seem to do a better job of containing costs and, in many cases, assuring a higher level of health care services for more people.
Critics says that comes at the expense of rationed care and long waiting periods for some services.
That may be, but with an increasingly older population and higher rates of obesity and diabetes, the U.S. must clearly find a different course.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.