Poll Reveals Americans' Thoughts on Health

What shapes an individual's thoughts on his or her health?

What shapes an individual’s thoughts on his or her health?

This was the question posed by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. These 3 organizations collaborated on a study of what factors contribute to individuals’ considerations of their own health, which could mean their diseases, mental health, disabilities, and physical and mental well-being.

The polling was conducted via phone in September and October 2014 with 2423 respondents 18 years and older.

A little more than 60% of the participants described themselves as being “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their health, according to the study.

The top 5 causes of poor health, based on 14 different options, were believed to be (1) lack of access to high-quality medical care, (2) personal behavior, (3) viruses or bacteria, (4) high stress, and (5) being exposed to pollution.

Participants also considered what kind of childhood experiences could impact a person’s health later. Almost 55% said that being abused or neglected would make a significant impact, while others also pointed to pollution, a poor diet, and a lack of vaccinations. In their own lives, the most common experiences that may have led to worse health were the death of a loved one and being in a serious accident.

Being unemployed or having a job that does not pay well, living in a polluted area, not having access to affordable housing, problems getting quality medical care from a doctor or hospital, and living in low-income communities with fewer resources were the top experiences in adulthood that participants said could have a negative effect on their health.

“These findings suggest the importance of paying attention to key events and life circumstances that may shape individuals’ future health,” the study authors wrote.

The majority of participants fell into 2 categories when they compared their own health to their parents’ health. Forty-two percent said they were in better health than their parents, and 45% said they were about as healthy as their parents. Another 9% said they were in worse health, and the remaining participants could not answer definitively.

Half of the participants said they have “a great deal of control” over their health, 28% said they have “quite a bit of control,” and 22% had some, very little, or no control. Those who were more affluent, more highly educated, and in good health tended to be more likely to believe they have control over their health.

Forty percent said they put “quite a bit of effort” into improving their health, and 27% said they are putting a “great deal of effort” into their health. Almost one-third described their efforts as some, very little, or none at all.

The study also examined what the participants did to improve their health. The researchers found that about 3 in 10 said they exercise or engage in vigorous physical activity each day, while 45% said they do so a few times a week; 1 in 4 said they do so a few times a month or less. One in 6 said they were on a diet.

Other ways the participants said Americans could improve their health included improving access to affordable healthy food, reducing illegal drug use, reducing pollution, increasing access to high-quality health care, and improving the economy and the availability of jobs.

“In terms of improving the health of the nation and their own communities, Americans think very broadly about the issues that have to be addressed in the future,” the study authors concluded.

“The public recognizes that effective steps in improving health go beyond medical care, including economic, environmental, and school-, work-, and diet-related measures.”

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