Be Careful of How You Rate Your Health

health ratingPrevious, short-term studies have shown that how people rate their own health is a predictor of their chances of survival. Poor self-rated health has been found to be associated with increased risk of death. However, research has been limited to examining the issue over just 5-10 years, leaving questions about whether patients who reported poor health were actually experiencing early symptoms of health conditions or disease, prior to diagnosis.

New long-term research has answered many of those questions. An analysis from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine is the first to look at long-term results, spanning over 30 years. The 8251 participants were first asked to describe their health as part of a survey in the 1970’s, and the researchers followed them through the year 2000, assessing how they fared.  The participants had rated their health on a scale from “excellent” to “very poor.”

The study found that there is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to rating one’s own health: The worse people described their health in the beginning of the study, the less likely they were to be living 30 years later. Specifically, men who rated their health as “very poor” were more than three times as likely to die over the long-term, in comparison to men of the same age who said their health was “excellent.” Women who reported very poor health were also more likely to die in the duration of the study, with their risk of death double that of women who reported being much healthier. With each notch lower on the scale, rates of death gradually grew. About half of the participants rated their health as ‘‘good’’. People who rated their health as ‘‘less than good’’ were more frequently older, or foreign nationals, or had intermediate or lower educational level. Marital status did not seem to have a substantial effect on how people reported their health.

Even taking into account several factors such as disease diagnoses, use of medications, blood pressure, and smoking history, the trend remained significant.  This suggests that self-reported health provides relevant and sustained health information beyond classical risk factors or medical history. The study authors concluded that individuals who rate their health as ‘excellent’ may have an advantage over others–not primarily because of absence of disease–but because of a high satisfaction with their life.

“The study states that negative self-image leads to increased disease states, so it would follow that a positive self-image should improve health or prevent deterioration”,  said Dr. Mona Misra, expert weight loss surgeon in California. “Psychological components are usually dismissed as unimportant or soft components of one’s overall health. This study shows the value of positive outlook and how it can contribute directly to long-term health and wellness. Simply put, the value of a patient saying I am happier and feel better, is not just cosmetic but influences long term health and wellness,” Misra explained.

“This is something to keep in mind for our obese population, where self-esteem takes a beating with repeated failed attempts at dieting, and discrimination they face daily. Giving them a solution that can actually work long term will not only improve their health through ways we already know about, such as diabetes and hypertension resolution, but by treating their weight and improving their self-esteem and self-image, this study shows that their overall health and wellness should also be benefited. This once again reinforces what weight loss surgeons understand: obesity affects the entire body from head to toe, and by attacking obesity we are treating the entire body,” she concluded.

A positive outlook has also been found to be beneficial in weight loss, as Dr. Misra pointed out. A recent study found that women taking part in a weight loss program designed to improve body image were able to better control their eating, and thus, lost more weight than women in a control group. You can read more about the study here.

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