Europeans have never been healthier. So why do we feel so bad?

A funny thing happened this week.

The World Health Organisation produced a report telling Europeans that we have never been this healthy. We are ahead of targets to reduce major life-threatening illnesses; life expectancy is up; infant mortality is down. Of course, the report was nuanced – they always are. Inequality and obesity remain concerns.

What headlines did this generate? “UK is third fattest nation in Europe,” warned the Telegraph. “Obesity Britain: Two-thirds of us are overweight,” intoned the Mail. Not a single paper – not even the Guardian – wrote “Europe – you’ve never had it so good”.

It’s further proof, as if any were needed, that good news struggles to get a look-in. That editors and reporters tend to seek out the negative, the worrisome, the alarming over the positive.

My colleague Natalie Nougayrède argued this week that the same is happening in our political reporting in Europe. The coverage of Sweden’s election focused almost exclusively on a party that failed to get more than one in five votes. But the far-right Swedish Democrats transmit the fear factor and so make for stickier headlines.

Similarly in the recent past, the media has written about the political demise of Angela Merkel, the collapse of the euro, the secession of Catalonia, the overwhelming influx of migrants, and the prospect of Isis launching daily terror attacks in Europe. None have come to pass.

One of the reasons that the media shuns good news is that good things often take a long time to build, while bad things tend to happen all at once. That much is obvious from this week’s Upside offering: it has taken Israel a long time to coax its isolated ultra-Orthodox community into the world of work, but the effort is finally bearing fruit.

Similarly, immigrants in southern Italy have taken a while to find their feet, but now that they have, there are good stories to tell. A museum fire in Brazil takes a few hours to wreak destruction, but training the people who might save our cultural heritage from future disasters takes far longer.

First aiders of the lost ark

What we liked

A word in favour of social media. As the hurricane season reaches its crescendo in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Standard reported on the apps that make a difference in a storm.

And it’s also good to see people trying to address America’s terrifying opioid problem, largely through arts-based interventions.

What we heard

What a great little endeavour. One of the things Isis tried to achieve was the removal of shared history, a sense of the past binding peoples together in an effort to create a Day One mentality. The fire in Brazil had the potential to do something similar though thankfully on a much smaller scale. Those people working to save the cultural heritage of Brazil, Syria etc are helping to save the ties that bind us.

Tintenfische, writing below the line in a story about training experts to rescue and restore cultural treasures.

I very much enjoyed your article on the great African regreening. I believe another good article could be on sustainable architecture, which is in tune with the extreme environment, and how it could/is making living more comfortable across the African continent.

Jelani Aliyu, in an email. Watch this space, Jelani…

Where was the Upside?

In Uzbekistan, where a once austere state loosened the shackles a little to permit an electronica festival on the bed of the dried-up Aral Sea – a spirited exercise to raise awareness of one of the world’s most startling environmental disasters.


A ship graveyard, awaiting DJs Photograph: Joanna Lillis

Also, in Wales, where a book lover won a bookshop in a raffle.

If there is a story, innovation or trailblazer you think we should report on, write to us at

Sign up here to get this weekly digest emailed to you every Friday


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more