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Kiwi health age wake up call

Thursday 26 May 2016

A young country full of old people: Kiwi health age wake up call

Sovereign ‘Health Age Generator’ reveals the nation’s health age

A unique snapshot of how Kiwis are faring on the health front, including potential bonus or penalty ‘health age’ years, based on the lifestyle choices we make, has shown the degree to which everyday behaviour can impact our wellbeing outlook.

Financial worries, alcohol and work pressures were exposed as some of the leading factors as to why Kiwis are adding years to their age.

The independent research undertaken by Sovereign reveals we’re more senior in health years than our actual years of life, with a national average of two penalty years being added to the biological age of Kiwis. On the extreme end of the health spectrum 20 penalty years were noted.

The research, based on the Sovereign ‘Health Age Generator’ – a survey developed by Synergy Health Research, analyses key physical, mental and behavioural components. This information is used to calculate penalty years (indicating a negative health outlook compared to the norm), or bonus years (indicating a positive health outlook compared to the norm); to generate a personalised health report with recommendations on what steps can be taken to improve overall health.

Dr Simon Mayhew, Sovereign Medical Adviser, says there is no time like the present to draw a line in the sand and review how everyday choices can have a positive or a negative impact on your health.

“The research shows that our lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on our health and as a nation we have a bit of work to do – particularly when looking at stress, alcohol consumption and how work pressures are impacting our health. The great news is that even a couple of small positive changes can have a powerful impact on our overall health.

“The ‘Health Age Generator’ is about checking in on where you are now and being aware of the ways you can take charge of your behaviour and lifestyle choices to improve overall health and wellbeing.”

Launched as part of Healthy by Sovereign, New Zealand’s first health insurance loyalty programme to reward Kiwis for their everyday healthy choices, the online tool was designed to give individuals more awareness and understanding of the key components of their lifestyles which can have a positive or negative impact to their health as they age.

Key insights from the research painted a compelling national snapshot of our health status.

New Zealand’s Health Age:

o National average: 2 penalty years

o Men fare better than women: average 1.2 penalty years versus at 2.2 years

o Healthier as we age: Health age penalty years are decreasing as individuals get older

o Major city dwellers are faring better than the regions.

How we’re faring – a deeper dive:

o Risk taking: women are more risk averse than men, being more likely to wear a seatbelt when driving, and more likely to take precautions to avoid sun damage and practice safe sex

o Smoking: one in ten (12%) say they presently smoke – but 9% are ready to make a change and not smoke

o Weight: almost half (48%) of respondents said their weight had increased by 1kg-10kg over the past 10 years while one in ten (14%) said they’d gained more than 10kgs in the past decade

o Check-ups:

- One in five (22%) haven’t had a blood pressure check recently

- Two in five (43%) haven’t had a cholesterol check recently

- More than half (53%) of female respondents said they always have a pap smear and a third (33%) always have a mammogram when recommended

- Only 15% of men do regular testicular check on themselves

o Energy: only 6 percent of respondents rated their energy level as excellent, while the majority of research respondents (40%) said their energy level was just OK

o Fitness: men registered the highest levels of physical fitness, job satisfaction and social life while women fared better than men when it came to strength of relationships with family and enjoyment of life.

Stress, alcohol and work pressures playing a major role:

o Money worries: top the list of stress disruptors for Kiwis, ahead of family, health, work and even personal problems

o Alcohol: Over a quarter of respondents (27%) said they have four or more drinks in one session 1-3 times each week

o Work: almost half (49%) of respondents stated they work 40 or more hours each week, a third (33%) get under 7 hours sleep on average each night and 48% said their health has impaired their work performance in the past three months – with men more likely to have taken time off due injury or illness

o Physical pain: lower back, neck and shoulder were stated as the top three body parts causing discomfort for Kiwis in the past month

o Stress: is taking hold of Kiwis in physical ways including poor sleep, a nervous stomach, tension headaches and irritability.

Synergy Health Research Manager, Jamie Scott, highlights the ways stress in particular can drive poor health behaviours.

“Key stressors can drive poor food choices, sleep patterns, physical activity levels and poor socialisation patterns. From these patterns, you see the early stress indicators appear, then eventually the more pathological states, such as high blood pressure, poor blood sugar, high inflammatory states, all of which impact the brain as much as the body and fuels further stress. But poor behaviours, not driven by a specific stressor, can lead to stress itself.

“Someone who is eating poorly and staying up late, will invariably get tired, not want to move much, will eat more junk food to self-medicate, and then may start to make poor financial decisions or abuse drugs and alcohol to control the stress, leading to personal and family problems, poorer health, and so on. You can easily see the vicious cycle people can fall into.”

The health age generator is available on


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