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Don’t be too confident – science shows it can be dangerous to your health

According to recent studies, people who overestimate their health go to the doctor 17.0% less often than those who assess their health accurately.

People, especially older people, often overestimate their health.

People who are older and overestimate their health go to the doctor less often. This can have significant health consequences, for example if infections are detected too late. People who overestimate their degree of illness, on the other hand, go to the doctor more often. This is what Sonja Spitzer from the Institute for Demography at the University of Vienna and Mujahed Shaikh from the Hertie School in Berlin found out in a new study based on data from over 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and over. The Journal of Economics of Aging published the results.

Our behavior is influenced by our self-confidence. High-spirited people are more likely to be leaders, make more money, and make different investment decisions. But they also behave more recklessly, have more accidents, and suffer from poorer health from excessive alcohol consumption, poor eating habits, and lack of sleep.

People’s choices about their own health, e.g. B. whether or not they see a doctor can be influenced by how they perceive the quality of their own health. According to a recent study by Sonja Spitzer from the University of Vienna and Mujahed Shaikh from the Hertie School, people who overestimate their health go to the doctor 17.0% less often than those who accurately assess their health, which is important for preventive medical check-ups such as medical check-ups . Comparable results were observed for dental appointments.

However, the frequency and duration of hospital stays are independent of one’s own assessment of one’s own state of health; This is likely because hospitalizations are more tightly regulated and often require a doctor’s referral.

Anyone who thinks they are sicker than they are goes to the doctor more often

The authors also found that people who underestimated their health were 21% more likely to see a doctor. On the one hand, there is the disadvantage that these additional visits could generate unnecessary costs, which is relevant in view of the aging of the population and the associated high public health expenditure. On the other hand, people who underestimate their health and therefore pay close attention to it can be particularly fit in the long term, which could have a positive impact on society. Overall, it is difficult for outsiders to assess which visits are justified and which are not.

For their study, the researchers analyzed data from over 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and over using statistical methods. The data was collected as part of the SHARE study (Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe) between 2006 and 2013.

First, the participants were asked how they assessed their state of health, for example whether they had problems getting up from a chair after sitting for a long time. Then the test persons actually had to get up from a chair during a test – this way it can be determined whether someone overestimates, underestimates or correctly assesses their health. The researchers also accounted for misperceptions related to memory and mobility. Overall, the majority of survey participants correctly assess their health (79%), 11% overestimate themselves and 10% underestimate themselves.

Who knows about her health?

With their new study, the researchers built on an earlier study that had shown that the perception of health varies greatly depending on age, nationality and education. The older people are, the more often they overestimate their health.

The researchers also found large regional differences: according to the analysis, people in southern Europe tend to overestimate their health, while people in central and eastern Europe often underestimate their health. Educated people are also more likely to assess their health correctly. The appeal of the scientists: focus more on health education and health literacy. How healthy we feel can affect how healthy we actually are in the long run.

Reference: “Health misperceptions and health care among older Europeans” by Sonja Spitzer and Mujaheed Shaikh, April 8, 2022 The Journal of the Economics of Aging.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jeoa.2022.100383


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