Well-Being in the United States: The Obama Years

This article, written in conjunction with Gallup, is a five-part exploration into the changes in Americans’ health and well-being during the presidency of Barack Obama.

As the eight years of the current presidential administration near conclusion, Gallup and Sharecare are reporting on well-being metrics in the United States during the Obama era. Since President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, well-being in the U.S. has maintained or improved in several key areas, including life evaluation, healthcare access, smoking and perceived standard of living. Other well-being items, however, such as obesity and incidence of diabetes continue to trend in the wrong direction, indicating an increasing need for intervention.

The Impact of the Affordable Care Act

President Obama’s most notable contribution to the healthcare sector, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), has played a fundamental role in transforming the healthcare paradigm nationwide. Gallup and Sharecare research shows that the adoption of the ACA has had a profound effect on reducing uninsured rates, which have declined 6.1 percentage points since the fourth quarter of 2013, right before the key provision of the Affordable Care Act took effect. As of the end of 2015, uninsured rates had dropped to historical lows. A recent article published by President Obama in the Journal of the American Medical Association details the impact of the law on this and other healthcare trends.

Healthcare Insecurity Drops; Costs Remain Steady

Significantly, healthcare insecurity is on the decline. From 2008 through 2013, the percentage of Americans who experienced difficulty in the past 12 months affording healthcare or medicine remained fairly steady, hovering near the average of 18.7%. Since then, the average has been 16.4%, including the new quarterly low of 15.5% for the first quarter of 2016.

U.S. adult satisfaction with the total cost they pay for their healthcare has remained relatively steady over the past 14 years, including after the healthcare law was passed. Additionally, Gallup reported in late 2015 that the percentage of U.S. adults rating the quality of their healthcare and their healthcare coverage as “excellent” has dropped over the previous two years.

Life Evaluation and Standard of Living Ratings Rise; Health Assessments Drop

Recent Gallup and Sharecare analysis finds that life evaluation across all major racial/ethnic groups has improved since 2008. Life evaluation for whites is now higher than it has ever been, although life evaluation for blacks dropped slightly during the President’s second term. In 2016, the 55.4% who evaluate their lives “thriving” is on pace to be the highest measured in the nine years of tracking by Gallup and Sharecare.

Americans’ ratings of their standard of living have increased since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, with the Gallup Standard of Living Index rising steadily for the past 7 ½ years. At the beginning of the Obama presidency, 73% of Americans said they were satisfied with their current standard of living. By 2015, that figure had risen to 79%, and it is 80% so far in 2016.

However, Americans’ self-assessments of their overall health have slipped since 2008. Currently, 19.0% of U.S. adults report “excellent” health, compared with 22.6% in 2008. The percentage of U.S. adults who report their health as “poor” or “fair” has remained stable at around 20% during this period.

Health Behaviors Vary; Obesity Rate Continues to Climb

While Americans’ exercise and smoking habits have improved under the current administration, their eating habits have worsened slightly over the past eight years. The percentage of Americans who said they ate healthy all day yesterday has fluctuated since Gallup and Sharecare began to track this metric in 2008, from an initial 66.1%, reaching a high of 67.7% in 2010, to the 64.2% of U.S. adults measured in 2016.

The current 18.0% of U.S. adults who smoke has decreased from 21.0% in 2009, continuing a trend that began long before Obama took office. Additionally, the percentage of Americans who report exercising regularly has edged up in 2016 to 53.8%, and from a longer-term perspective, has increased 2.4 percentage points since 2008.

Though Americans’ exercise habits have improved, this has not contributed to a drop in the obesity rate. In 2015, the obesity rate among U.S. adults climbed to a new high of 28.0%, up 2.5 percentage points since 2008. This concerning trend highlights the need for leaders, both civil and political, to continue pushing towards positive change in their communities to encourage active living and promote access to healthy food.

These results are based on more than 100,000 interviews thus far in 2016, 175,000 interviews conducted in 2015 and more than 350,000 interviews conducted in 2008 and 2009 as part of the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

To read more from the five-part Obama Era series, please visit the following links:

Learn more about how the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index works.