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Most Americans Think It's Others Who Are Unhealthy

Survey found most people thought they were fine, while their docs disagreed

TUESDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Despite rising rates of obesity and diabetes, a new survey has found that a majority of Americans believe their health is just fine - it's everyone else who has the problem.

More than 50 percent of respondents said that other people's health "was going in the wrong direction." In contrast, only 17 percent said their own health was going in the wrong direction.

Commissioned by GE Healthcare, The Cleveland Clinic and Ochsner Health System, the survey looked at how Americans and their health-care professionals rate the country's health. The findings, which were released Tuesday, show a big disconnect between how Americans rate their own personal health and how they rate the health of their fellow Americans. Furthermore, Americans seem to think they are in much better shape than their doctors believe they are.

"Either people are denying reality about themselves or they don't have the correct knowledge and believe they are doing the right things," said study author Dr. Michael Roizen, chairman of The Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. "Personally, I think there is a lot of misinformation [about healthy habits]."

On the other hand, Roizen added, many physicians may be overstating their concern about the health of the general population because they tend to see the sickest.

According to the study, which surveyed more than 2,000 people across the United States late last year:

  • Nearly 30 percent of the respondents gave themselves an A for managing their personal health, while 92 percent of doctors gave them a C or lower.
  • Nearly a third of the study respondents gave themselves an A for eating healthy. Once again, 92 percent of doctors gave them a C or lower.
  • About a third gave themselves an A for getting regular exercise, while 91 percent of physicians gave them a C or lower.

One disconnect is that in a land where a majority of people are overweight or obese, people tend to compare themselves favorably with their more overweight neighbors, explained Eva To, a registered dietician in White Plains, N.Y.

"Everything is relative," she said. "In America, everything is big. But if you put them in an Asian country, they will compare themselves to someone else."

Another problem seems to be that many respondents didn't know their basic health numbers - blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose level and other measures. Just 24 percent knew their body-mass index; 29 percent knew their blood glucose level; 33 percent knew their daily caloric intake; and only 36 percent knew their current cholesterol levels.

And yet a majority reported that keeping those numbers in a good range was key to good health. Ninety-five percent agreed that regular checkups with their physicians were important, even though 70 percent said they had taken actions to avoid their doctors, such as hoping their health problems would go away on their own or asking a friend for medical advice instead.

"It is important that patients communicate with their personal physicians to help manage their own health," said Dr. Scott Hayworth, president and CEO of Mount Kisco Medical Group in New York. "With this comes an obligation to be aware of how well they are following guidelines for exercise, diet and weight management."

It's a task that may be easier said than done, according to To.

"Americans are just not into prevention," she said. "If they are not sick, they think they are healthy. But most of the killers are silent diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. We don't feel it, but they are killers all the same."

People also tend to rationalize their bad behavior by believing that the good things they do cancel out the negative. An extra slice of pizza, for example, may be justified as OK after a workout.

"People may say they eat salad for lunch, but what about the salad dressing?" said To. "They look at one element and not look at the whole picture."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on healthy living.

SOURCE: Michael Roizen, chairman, Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute, Ohio; Scott Hayworth, M.D., president and CEO, Mount Kisco Medical Group, NY; Eva To, MS, registered dietician, White Plains, N.Y.;

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