The Elusive Definition of Wellness

If you ask people around the world how healthy they think they are, you’ll get some surprising answers.

By many objective measures, people in Japan tend to be healthy. The country’s cancer rates are relatively low, and its life expectancy is among the longest in the world — about 87 years for women and 81 for men. And yet people in Japan are far less likely than people in other prosperous countries to say they’re in good health, according to survey data collated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Another striking contrast comes at the other end of the list. Obesity and other factors correlated with poor health are relatively high in the United States, which is why life expectancy for Americans is increasing to a lesser extent than in, say, South Korea. But the vast majority of people in the U.S. say they’re healthy. Maybe Americans are kidding themselves, while Japanese and Koreans are more reluctant to take good health for granted. Whatever the reasons for the disparity, it’s a reminder that the quest for wellness means very different things to different people.

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