Most Americans think they are in either excellent or good health, but most talk the talk more than they walk the walk. When it comes to habits that keep us healthy, actions such as exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and managing stress don't always match words, a recent study sponsored by Cigna HealthCare found.
When asked about their health, more than half of respondents (57 percent) said they are in "excellent or very good health," and in even better health than they were a year earlier. But when the same people were asked how others would characterize their health or they were asked about what they do, the answers looked a little different:
>> Just over half (54 percent) said others would say they need to lose at least 10 pounds. (Reality: CDC figures show two of three adults, or 66 percent, are either overweight or obese.)
>> Three of four (75 percent) said others would say they are in good physical shape, but nearly half (49 percent) said others would agree they workout vigorously three times a week. (Reality: Government figures show that more than half of adults don't get enough activity to benefit their health and a quarter don't do anything.)
>> More than eight of 10 respondents (85 percent) said they live a balanced life and manage stress effectively (84 percent). (Reality: The National Institute of Mental Health shows that one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder.)
"Addressing the gap between consumers' perception of health and reality is a vital first step in encouraging actions that will result in health improvement," said Allen Woolf, CIGNA senior vice president and medical officer. "Lifestyle choices contribute significantly to many health risks, but most people can make meaningful changes in health behaviors with the right support system and strategies that fit their personal needs and situation."
It's not as if Americans don't know what they should do. In fact, 42 percent of respondents said exercising and getting into better shape is the most important thing they can do this year to improve their health. But more than half of respondents (56 percent) said that lack of time or too many work and family commitments prevents them from exercising more. When it comes to losing weight, a third of respondents (34 percent) pointed to poor habits and nearly as many (32 percent) admitted a lack of discipline.
Age, income and where a person lives affect how they view their health and well-being. The elderly and those in lower-income households cited managing serious disease as their most important concern, while more adults age 25 to 29 and those from higher-income households said losing weight was their most important concern. More adults age 35 to 70 said others would say they need to lose 10 pounds.
Responses also differed based on various metropolitan areas:
>> In Denver, 83 percent of people said they believe others would say they are in good shape, the highest of any city surveyed, and only 36 percent said others would say they need to lose 10 pounds, the lowest of any city.
>>In Los Angeles, people view themselves as being healthy and in good shape but also want to get into better shape. About eight in 10 agree others would say they are in good shape (79 percent) and full of energy (80 percent), yet almost half (46 percent) feel that exercising and getting into better shape is the most important thing they can do to improve their health.
The study was conducted for Cigna by Yankelovich and involved 20-minute interviews with 1,000 adults, 18 and older, in early 2007. Additional interviews were conducted in nine cities to provide regional comparisons.