Every American Except You Is Unhealthy

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Americans are overweight. Americans eat too much sugar. Americans don’t exercise enough. These are all truths supported by various data sets from health officials at big government agencies, and here is another one, reported today by Time: Most Americans probably also ignore all of that, instead preferring to assume they are perfectly healthy, thank you.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported on Tuesday that about 66 percent of Americans believe themselves to be in either “excellent” or “very good” health. This, despite ambitious research projects like the one published by Dr. Steven Woolf in 2013, which found that Americans of all ages were in poorer health when compared to their counterparts in other countries, as Time reports. It is also a curious coincidence, by the way, that the percentage of Americans who believe themselves to be healthy almost exactly matches the percentage of Americans who are overweight, a figure that has been climbing since the 1990s. And yet, as Time’s Mandy Oaklander writes, the number of Americans who seem to sincerely think that they’ve got it together, health-wise, has not changed much in nearly two decades.

An annoying quirk of human psychology that psychologists call illusory superiority may be able to shed some light on this contradiction. It’s the notion that most people tend to overestimate their abilities when it comes to a rather wide range of tasks or activities. Most people tend to believe their IQ is probably higher than other people’s; most drivers think they’re better at driving than other people. And parents, for example, tend to assume that they are better than they really are at being able to tell when their kid is lying.

And should you think that this research doesn’t apply to you – that, leaving whatever it is the rest of your countrymen are doing aside, surely you are indeed living a healthy lifestyle – well, I had a feeling you might think that. People also tend to believe that they are better at providing accurate and objective self-assessments than they truly are.