Kiwis report feeling less healthy
The proportion of New Zealanders rating their general health as ‘excellent’ has fallen over the last eight years, especially among adults aged under 45, Stats NZ said today.
The General Social Survey, first collected in 2008, asks people to rate their general health. This may include aspects of both physical and mental health.
In 2018, 1 in 6 New Zealanders (17 percent) aged 15 and over rated their health as ‘excellent’, a significant drop from a peak of 1 in 4 Kiwis (25 percent) who rated their health as 'excellent' in 2010.
“How people feel about their own health has a strong relationship with objective health,” wellbeing and housing statistics manager Dr Claire Bretherton said.
“However, changes over time may also reflect a change in the context in which people are assessing their health. For example, greater awareness and social acceptance of mental health problems may mean that people are more likely to identify those health issues in themselves.”
Data from the Ministry of Health's New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS) shows that rates of poor mental health have increased. In the year ended June 2018, 8.6 percent of adults reported psychological distress, up from 4.5 percent reported in the year ended June 2012.
The proportions of women and men reporting ‘excellent’ health both declined between 2010 and 2018, falling by similar amounts.
Younger Kiwis show biggest drop in 'excellent' health ratings
The decline in ‘excellent’ self-rated health cuts across all age groups, but is most pronounced in the younger age groups. Of people aged 15–44 years, 1 in 3 rated their health as 'excellent' in 2010, but by 2018 this had fallen to just 1 in 5.
People tend to feel less healthy as they age. The NZHS data shows higher rates of health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments amongst older people. However, over the past eight years, the gap between younger and older people reporting 'excellent' health has narrowed. This narrowing is entirely due to the falling number of young people rating their health as 'excellent', while the proportion of older people reporting 'excellent' health has remained relatively stable.
Falling ‘excellent’ health amongst wealthy leads to improved health equity between rich and poor
People with higher personal incomes are more likely to report having 'excellent' health, compared with those earning less.
“People with higher incomes may have better access to healthcare and healthier lifestyles,” Dr Bretherton said.
Data from the General Social Survey shows that people on lower incomes are more likely to go without fruit and vegetables, postpone trips to the doctor, and put up with feeling cold. The NZHS found that people who lived in the most deprived areas were more likely to smoke, be less physically active, and not get the recommended amount of sleep – all of which are direct contributors to poor health.
However, the gap between rich and poor reporting ‘excellent’ health has decreased since the survey began. Although people across all income brackets were less likely to report being in ‘excellent’ health in 2018, the higher income groups have fallen at a faster rate.
“Some of this difference may be due to the income categories remaining static over time, rather than adjusting to reflect income inflation,” Dr Bretherton said.