2001 Gallup Institute "Health Of The Nation" Audit Offers Good News

by George Gallup Jr.

Screenings, immunizations up -- although not to recommended levels

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ – A new Gallup poll audit of Americans' views about their personal health finds increased awareness and action on the part of many people to protect their health. The survey, conducted April 11-29 of this year, reports gains from a similar survey conducted three years ago, May-June, 1998, in the percentage of men and women taking vital screening tests for major health problems, as well as in the proportion of people who have received immunizations or vaccinations against various diseases in the past five years. Nevertheless, many Americans are either not getting the recommended screenings or are being screened less often than the recommended frequency. The audit also shows that many Americans admit to behavior that is not good for their health -- more than half of all Americans say they are overweight, and more than four in 10 say they don't get enough sleep.

Both Men and Women Increasingly Getting Tests

As warnings about the dangers of breast cancer have increased, the percentage of women who say that they have ever had a mammogram has also increased -- from 57% in 1998 to 64% in the latest survey. Among women 40 and older -- the age group for which regular breast checkups are generally recommended -- about 85% have had at least one mammogram. Still, just 61% of women in that age group report having received one in the past year.

Men have also apparently been heeding persistent health messages, although -- like women -- not to the extent they should. The percentage of those who have ever had a rectal exam to check the prostate has increased by four points, from 51% to 55%. Among men 40 and older, 74% have had at least one rectal exam. However, the frequency of screening is not as great as recommended, as the Gallup audit shows that less than half (46%) of men 40 and older have had such an exam within the past year, even though all men in that age group are advised to have a prostate check every year.

Perhaps the greatest case of neglect in personal healthcare is in the area of screening for colon cancer. Doctors often recommend a fecal examination every year for everyone, with a sigmoidoscopy every five years and a colonoscopy every 10 years. The audit shows that only 31% of all Americans have been screened at least once for colon cancer, although that is up from 26% three years ago. Among people 40 and older, just 42% have ever had a test for colon cancer, and an even smaller 22% in this age group have had a test within the past year.

Americans have been quite diligent in getting their blood pressure checked -- more than nine in 10 report doing so in the past year. Additionally, nearly all women surveyed indicate they have had a pap smear.

HEALTH SCREENING

 

1998

2001

Change

       
 

%

%

%

Ever had mammogram

57

64

+7

Ever had rectal exam to check prostate (all men)

51

55

+4

Ever screened for colon cancer

26

31

+5

Blood pressure check in past year

88

91

+3

Had blood tested for cholesterol

74

77

+3

Ever had pap smear (all women)

93

95

+2

Check-Up in the Past Year?

The percentage of adults, 18 and older, who visited a doctor in the year prior to the interview was 84%, closely matching the 82% recorded in the 1998 audit. More than half of those surveyed, 57%, report that in these visits they discussed physical fitness with their doctors. Less than half report discussion of a variety of other health issues: good nutrition (49%), maintaining proper weight (49%), getting adequate sleep (35%), health risks of smoking (28%), safe sex practices (20%), risks associated with alcohol abuse (13%), and the role of spirituality or religious faith (7%).

Immunizations Are Up

While immunizations are generally thought to have increased for young people, adults also choose to have them for a variety of reasons. The 2000 survey found small but statistically significant increases in the percentage of American adults receiving immunizations for influenza, tetanus or diphtheria.

IMMUNIZATIONS OR VACCINATIONS PAST 5 YEARS

 

1998

2001

Change

       
 

%

%

%

Flu or influenza

38

44

+6

Tetanus or diphtheria

36

42

+6

Hepatitis B

18

22

+4

Pneumonia

14

18

+4

Measles, mumps or rubella

10

10

-

Other findings from the current Gallup Institute National Health Audit show about one-fourth of American adults (26%) assess their overall health as "excellent." This is slightly higher than the proportion of high school students with the same assessment (19%).

 

SELF-DESCRIPTION OF HEALTH

 

Adults

Teens

     

Excellent

26%

19

Good

55%

66

Just fair

16%

12

Poor

3%

3



Many People Overweight and Tired

Survey respondents were also asked about "things they have done that are not good for their health." Topping the list of seven items is "I weigh more than I should," followed by "I don't get enough sleep."

Tops on a parallel list for teens, as determined by the latest Gallup Youth Survey, are: "I don't get enough sleep" and "I don't watch my diet."

Here is the list and comparison between adults and teens:

 

Adults

Teens

     
 

%

%

I weigh more than I should

54

21

I don't get enough sleep

42

48

I drink alcohol

38

13

I don't watch my diet

37

33

I don't get regular exercise

37

19

I don't get regular check-ups

27

26

I smoke cigarettes

23

11

As shown in the table below, compared with older Americans, younger Americans are less likely to report weighing too much, but more likely to report getting too little sleep, drinking alcohol, failing to get regular check-ups, and smoking. There are only modest differences among age groups on failing to watch one's diet and not exercising.

List of Bad Habits Compared by Age

   

Age Groups

 

Overall

Under 25

25-39

40-64

65+

           
 

%

%

%

%

%

I weigh more than I should

54

39

46

63

58

I don't get enough sleep

42

55

46

42

27

I drink alcohol

38

54

43

34

16

I don't watch my diet

37

34

42

34

35

I don't get regular exercise

37

33

38

36

38

I don't get regular check-ups

27

38

32

27

16

I smoke cigarettes

23

33

31

21

9

Survey Methods

The results for adults are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,000 adults, 18 years and older, conducted April 11-29, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The results for the teens are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 501 teens, between the ages of 13 and 17 inclusive, conducted March through May 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 5 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.

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