(NaturalNews) It might be easy or even convenient to believe that Americans are a lazy lot, unmotivated even to engage in rudimentary exercise and modest improvements in dietary habits, so we can live healthier, more productive lives, because that's what the world seems to think.
It's quite likely many of us believe the same line - that, as a whole, our rampant success as a nation has made us too complacent, too comfortable and too content, which explains why our bellies are ballooning and our derrieres are widening.
Some experts say our lifestyles are definitely contributing to an overall decline in the nation's collective health, but not because we're lazy. In fact, they say we're far too busy for our own good, and because of that, we've adopted some pretty bad habits.
It's a trend that has been progressing for some time now. Back in 2001, the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, made this conclusion: "Workers in the United States are putting in more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world."
Lawrence Jeff Johnson, the chief labor market economist who led the ILO team in producing the study, said "Key Indicators of the Labor Market 2001-2002," he also at the time that Americans were, per person, more productive than counterparts in other countries.
"But we're not the most efficient, when you compare it per hour, looking at the Belgians and the French," he said.
Working longer and harder - But how about smarter?
Still, efficiency aside and basing his conclusions on simple workload, Americans, by far, outpaced workers everywhere else in the world.
Part of the reason why Americans are more productive could have something to do with the fact that workers in other nations - particularly European countries - put in far less time on the job than we do. A decade ago, when this study came out, Europeans were getting an average of four-to-six weeks a year in vacation time - a benefit that hasn't changed much (yet) in many European Union countries despite their budget crises.
The additional annual leave from work could be why European workers are "not so stressed" as American workers, who get an average of two weeks' vacation per year, if they take one at all.
Johnson pointed out that in many European countries the work week is also much shorter than it is in the U.S. France, for instance, has a 35-hour work week, which is mandated by law.
Doing that here - mandating a work week - wouldn't be effective, he maintained.
"Mandating it doesn't work. In fact, they'll tell you that the '35-hour workweek' really means working the equivalent of 35 hours per week over the year," he said.
"But if we're working ourselves to death in the United States, why are we increasing the hours?" he said. "Almost every year we increase the hours of work. American workers put in long hours to make up the gains" in efficiency seen in France and Belgium.
Fast forward nearly a decade, to 2010. A study by the Center for American Progress found that 10 years later, Americans were still working long hours - longer, in fact, than our peers, by far.
According to the online publication 20somethingfinance.com, which summarized the center's study:
- Some 134 nations have laws setting the maximum allowable work week; the U.S. does not have such a law.
- In the U.S. a staggering 85.8 percent of men work longer than 40 hours a week, as do 66.5 percent of women.
- The productivity of American workers, on average, has increased 400 percent since 1950, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Longer hours, more social problems
"Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers," the ILO said a few years ago.
One way to look at that dramatic increase, says the 2010 analysis, "is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be four times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it's just not the average American worker."
As our lives have gotten busier, our eating habits have suffered (hence the rise in availability and consumption of fast food). Our personal lives have suffered (hence the dramatic rise in the national divorce rate). Our children's lives have suffered (hence the rise in juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and high-school drop-out rates).
Yes, America is hyper-productive. But is our hyper productivity tearing us apart?
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