Broadening the definition of ‘health’ could improve life quality, expectancy: report

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Adopting a holistic framework for health that includes mental, social, spiritual and physical aspects could lead to gains in life expectancy and quality of life, according to a new report.

The McKinsey Health Institute conducted a global survey of 1,000 respondents in each of 19 countries to understand how communities around the world define health and what factors influence it.

Results showed that all dimensions of health matter, and that feeling healthy is not constrained to the absence or presence of disease. The results, according to the report authors, indicate that people all over the world may focus more on how they can live full and functional lives.

Health perceptions

Overall, 85% of respondents rated mental and physical health as very or extremely important, whereas 70% rated social health the same, followed by 62% ranking spiritual health as very or extremely important.

With respect to age groups, similar proportions of younger and older respondents listed physical and mental health as important, whereas social and spiritual health were rated less important by older respondents.

The presence of disease did not always align with perceptions of health. More than 40% of respondents who reported having a disease still perceived their health as good or very good, whereas 20% without disease reported they were in fair, poor or very poor health.

Age also did not equate to health perceptions. Among those aged 75 to 84, 60% reported good or very good overall health, whereas 70% of those 18 to 24 reported the same. In the United States, findings were similar.

Older age groups recorded higher scores than younger groups on some health dimensions, notably mental health. This finding is consistent with some recent studies highlighting that members of Generation Z report lower mental health, according to report authors.

In most countries, including the United States, higher household income was correlated with higher health perceptions.

Support

Family and friends provide the highest level of health support across countries, genders and age groups, even more than public or private healthcare systems, results showed. Overall, people with a disease reported lower health support across all categories.

The survey found that people reporting low levels of health support were more likely to get sick. Other studies in the United States and Australia revealed that loneliness, social isolation and a lack of social support in older adults significantly increased the risk of premature death from all causes.

The authors concluded that if individuals, businesses and countries widen their understanding of health, they may realize gains in life expectancy and quality of life.

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