American perceptions on what shapes health: 20 takeaways

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of Americans report being very concerned about their health and the broad range of issues that impact health, according to a report from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Research members from all three institutions analyzed the responses to a poll developed by researchers at the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The poll was conducted via telephone between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, 2014 and includes a nationally representative sample of more than 2,400 respondents age 18 and older.

Highlighted below are 20 findings from the study.

Concern about future health

  • The groups most likely to say they are very concerned about their future health are those who describe their own health as fair or poor (52 percent reported being very concerned).
  • African Americans (47 percent) and Hispanics (44 percent) also reported being very concerned about their own health.
  • People age 50 to 64 (40 percent) and those with household incomes of less than $25,000 (39 percent) were also likely to report high levels of concern.

American perceptions of the top causes of individual health problems

  • Out of a list of 14 factors that might cause ill health, the Americans polled ranked the following five factors as being the top causes of individual health problems:
    • Lack of access to high-quality medical care — 42 percent
    • Personal behavior — 40 percent
    • Viruses or bacteria — 40 percent
    • High stress — 37 percent
    • Being exposed to air, water or chemical pollution — 35 percent

How race, ethnicity and income impact American's perceptions

  • African Americans are more likely than whites to perceive lack of access to high-quality medical care (56 percent to 41 percent), God's will (47 percent to 29 percent), having a low income (45 percent to 23 percent) and not having enough education (41 percent to 26 percent) as extremely important causes of individuals' health problems.
  • Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (46 percent to 31 percent) to say that bad working conditions are an important cause of health issues.
  • Low-income Americans (those with household incomes less than $25,000 a year) are more likely than high-income Americans ($75,000 a year or more) to believe poor neighborhood and housing conditions (40 percent to 27 percent) and bad working conditions (40 percent to 26 percent) are important causes of health problems.

Individual control over health

  • Half of Americans (50 percent) believe they have a great deal of control over their own health, whereas 28 percent believe they have quite a bit of control.
  • More than one-fifth of American (22 percent) believe they have some, very little or no control at all over their health.
  • Americans who are better off financially, more highly educated and in good health are more likely to believe that they have control over their health.
  • Hispanics (31 percent) are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (19 percent) and African Americans (17 percent) to think they do not have much control over their own health.

Top things Americans believe would improve people's health

  • Out of a list of 16 things that might help maintain or improve health, the Americans polled say they believe the following five would improve people's health most:
    • Improving access to affordable healthy food — 57 percent
    • Reducing illegal drug use — 54 percent
    • Reducing air, water and chemical pollution — 52 percent
    • Increasing access to high-quality healthcare — 52 percent
    • Improving the economy and the availability of jobs — 49 percent

To read the full report, click here.




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