Factors That Influence Health Perceptions Vary by Country

Researchers have known that an individuals’ perception of their own health can be influenced by factors such as income, marital status, gender, and the presence of chronic illnesses.

A new University of Michigan study discovers that how much a particular factor impacts perception of health is not universal.

“In most countries, the poor, those who are single, and women feel less healthy than others. However, the reason may or may not be because they are more ill, depending on the country,” said researcher Dr. Shervin Assari.

“Although by intuition we think those who feel less healthy should be always more sick and chronic diseases are why poor people feel less healthy, this is only true in some but not all countries.”

Assari and colleague Maryam Moghani Lankarani, M.D., of the UM Department of Psychiatry used data of more than 44,000 individuals selected from 15 countries in North America, South America, Asia, and Africa to study whether countries differ in the complex links between demographics, socioeconomic status, medical disease, and self-rated health.

In addition to the U.S. and Puerto Rico, countries include China, India, Russia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Uruguay, Ghana, and South Africa.

The researchers used two models to determine the impact of various factors on perceptions of health.

The first measured the effects of demographic and socioeconomic factors. The second tested if chronic medical conditions would explain the effects of demographic and socioeconomic factors on self-rated health.

The topic is important because an individual’s perception of their health can influence quality of life as well as mortality.

In the U.S., there is a relationship between socioeconomic status, or wealth, and a person’s health. Researchers discovered the reason poor individuals in the U.S. feel less healthy than others was because they were more medically ill.

Interestingly, this is an association the researchers did not find with any other country.

In Costa Rica, Argentina, Barbados, Cuba, and Uruguay, chronic medical conditions explained gender disparities in subjective health. In Puerto Rico, these conditions explained the effect of marital status on subjective health.

Past research in individual countries has shown that socioeconomic status impacts both health and a self-reported sense of well-being. Gender also has been associated with chronic health conditions, because women live longer and, therefore, develop more illness.

Women typically have fewer material resources, and are simply more likely to express concerns about their health. Age and level of education also influence self-rated health.

“In countries such as China, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, Chile, India, Ghana, and South Africa, chronic medical conditions do not explain why the poor, women, or single individuals feel less healthy,” Assari said.

“In those countries, we do not know why the poor feel less healthy if they are not more medically ill.”

Source: University of Michigan