Bird Flu Concerns Rise as Most Urgent Health Problem

by Joseph Carroll

Cost of healthcare continues to rank as top problem

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Every year, Gallup asks Americans, without prompting, to name the most urgent health problem facing the country at the present time. While the cost of healthcare and health insurance remains the most urgent health problem in the latest survey, the percentage of Americans mentioning cancer and the flu or bird flu has increased. At the same time, mentions of access to healthcare and healthcare costs have declined.

The survey also shows that half of Americans say they are concerned about contracting a deadly virus, such as the bird flu, that spreads to the United States from a foreign country; fewer Americans are concerned about contracting an infectious disease that is brought into the United States by terrorists.

Most Urgent Health Problem

The poll, conducted Nov. 7-10, finds that one in four Americans mention the cost of healthcare or insurance as the most urgent health problem facing the country today. Access to healthcare (17%), cancer (15%), and the flu or bird flu (10%) follow health costs in the list of urgent problems. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans say the top health problem in the country is obesity, AIDS, or heart disease.

Over the past year, there have been significant changes relating to four of these health problems.

  • Access to healthcare. There has been a 12-percentage point drop in the percentage of Americans mentioning access to healthcare as the nation's top health problem. Mentions of healthcare access are now at roughly the same level as in 2002, but healthcare access is still mentioned more frequently than in any year prior to that.

  • Health costs. The percentage of Americans who cite healthcare or insurance costs is down slightly from 29% last year to 25% this year. Since 2000, mentions of healthcare costs have been in the mid- to upper-20% range. (There was an exception to this in 2001, when Americans were much more likely to name bioterrorism as a top concern, following the anthrax scares that occurred after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.)

  • Flu. The poll finds an eight-point increase since last year (2% to 10%) in the percentage of respondents mentioning the flu or bird flu as the top health problem. This is almost certainly because of recent news accounts of the spread of the avian flu. Mentions of the flu are at the highest level Gallup has ever recorded in response to this question.

  • Cancer. Possibly related to the recent death of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings from lung cancer after years of smoking, Gallup shows an increase -- from 9% last year to 15% this year -- in the percentage of Americans who say cancer is the most urgent health problem. The current results are at roughly the same level Gallup measured from 1987 through 1991, in 1997, and more recently in 2003. Cancer mentions were highest in the late 1990s and early 2000s, ranging from 19% to 23% over that period.

The results on this most urgent health problem question have changed substantially since the question was first asked in 1987. At that time, more than two in three Americans (68%) cited AIDS as the most urgent health problem. AIDS remained the top health problem until 2000, when healthcare costs and access became the top concerns. Since that time, access or costs have rated at the top of the list of health problems, with the exception of Gallup's 2001 survey.

Half of Americans Worried About Contracting Bird Flu

A separate poll question asked Americans how worried they are about contracting a deadly virus such as bird flu or a deadly infectious disease such as smallpox that is brought into the country by terrorists.

The results show that half of Americans say they are very (14%) or somewhat (36%) worried about contracting a "deadly virus, such as bird flu or something similar, that spreads to the United States from a foreign country." The other half of the public is not too (29%) or not at all (21%) concerned.

Americans are less concerned about a deadly infectious disease spread by terrorists. Roughly 4 in 10 Americans say they are very (11%) or somewhat (32%) worried about contracting "a deadly infectious disease, such as smallpox or something similar, that is brought into the United States by terrorists." The majority of Americans are not too (34%) or not at all (23%) worried.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 7-10, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

What would you say is the most urgent health problem facing this country at the present time? [Open-ended]

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

OT

DK

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Nov

25

17

15

10

9

6

4

1

1

*

5

7

2004 Nov

29

29

9

2

7

5

2

*

*

*

9

8

2003 Nov

27

25

13

*

7

8

3

1

1

1

8

6

2002 Nov

25

14

21

1

7

8

5

2

*

1

7

9

2001 Nov

14

8

19

1

4

7

6

1

1

22

9

8

2000 Sep

25

13

20

--

3

18

3

1

2

--

8

7

1999 Feb

13

1

23

--

1

33

5

3

2

--

13

6

1997 Oct

9

13

15

--

*

29

3

2

6

--

18

5

1992 Mar

30

--

5

--

--

41

2

--

--

--

18

4

1991 Nov

20

--

6

--

--

55

2

--

--

--

14

3

1991 May

10

2

16

--

1

45

2

*

5

--

15

4

1987 Oct

1

--

14

--

3

68

7

1

4

--

8

3

*Less than 0.5%

KEY:

A. Healthcare/Insurance costs

B. Access to healthcare

C. Cancer

D. Flu or bird flu

E. Obesity

F. AIDS

G. Heart disease

H. Smoking

I. Alcohol/Drugs

J. Bioterrorism/Anthrax/Smallpox

OT. Other

DK. No opinion



Taking into consideration both your risk of contracting it and the seriousness of it, how worried are you, personally, about experiencing -- [ITEMS ROTATED] -- are you very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried, or not worried at all?

A. A deadly virus, such as bird flu or something similar, that spreads to the United States from a foreign country


Very worried

Somewhat worried


Not too worried

Not worried at all

ALREADY HAVE
(vol.)


No opinion

2005 Nov 7-10

14%

36

29

21

--

*

(vol.) = Volunteered response

B. A deadly infectious disease, such as smallpox or something similar, that is brought into the United States by terrorists


Very worried

Somewhat worried


Not too worried

Not worried at all

ALREADY
HAVE (vol.)


No opinion

2005 Nov 7-10

11%

32

34

23

--

*

2003 Nov 3-5

15%

31

25

29

--

*

(vol.) = Volunteered response


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/20032/Bird-Flu-Concerns-Rise-Most-Urgent-Health-Problem.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
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