October 5, 2022

Don’t Be Too Confident – Science Shows That It Can Endanger Your Health

Intensive Care Hospital Patient

According to recent research, people who overestimate their health see the doctor 17.0% less often than those who accurately evaluate their health.

People, especially the elderly, often overestimate their health.

Those who are older and overestimate their health see the doctor less often. This can have major health repercussions, such as when infections are identified too late. People who overestimate their level of illness, on the other hand, go to the doctor more often. Sonja Spitzer of the Institute for Demography at the University of Vienna and Mujaheed Shaikh of the Hertie School in Berlin discovered this in a new study based on data from over 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and older. The Journal of Economics of Aging published the findings.

Our behavior is impacted by our confidence. Overconfident people are more likely to be leaders, earn more money, and make different investment decisions. But they also behave more recklessly, have more accidents, and have poorer health as a result of their excessive alcohol use, poor food habits, and lack of sleep.

People’s choices about their own health, such as whether or not to see a doctor, may be affected by how they view the quality of their own health. According to recent research by Sonja Spitzer of the University of Vienna and Mujaheed Shaikh of the Hertie School, people who overestimate their health see the doctor 17.0% less often than those who accurately evaluate their health, which is important for preventive care like screenings. For dental appointments, comparable outcomes were observed.

However, the frequency and length of hospital stays are unaffected by one’s assessment of their own health; this is likely because hospital stays are more strictly regulated and often need a doctor’s referral.

Those who think they are sicker than they are visit the doctor more often

The authors also found that individuals who underestimate their health visit the doctor 21% more frequently. On the one hand, there is the disadvantage that these additional visits could cause unnecessary costs, which is relevant given population aging and the associated high public health expenditure. On the other hand, people who underestimate their health and therefore pay close attention to it may be particularly fit in the long term, which could have a positive impact on society. Overall, it is difficult for outsiders to assess which visits are justified and which are not.

For their study, the researchers analyzed data from over 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and older, using statistical methods. The data were collected as part of the SHARE study (Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe) between 2006 and 2013.

First, the participants were asked how they assessed their health, for example, whether they had problems getting up from a chair after sitting for a long period. Then, the participants had to actually get up from a chair during a test – this way it can be determined whether someone overestimates, underestimates, or correctly assesses their health. The researchers also took misjudgments related to memory and mobility into account. Overall, the majority of survey participants correctly assess their health (79%), 11% overestimate, and 10% underestimate themselves.

Who knows about their health?

With their new study, the researchers built on a previous study that showed that the perception of health differs greatly depending on age, nationality, and education. The older people are, the more often they overestimate their health.

The researchers also found large regional differences: according to the analysis, people in Southern Europe tend to overestimate their health, while people in Central and Eastern Europe often underestimate their health. Educated people are also more likely to correctly assess their health. The scientists’ appeal: Focus more on health education and health literacy. How healthy we feel can influence how healthy we actually are in the long term.

Reference: “Health misperception and healthcare utilisation among older Europeans” by Sonja Spitzer and Mujaheed Shaikh, 8 April 2022, The Journal of the Economics of Ageing.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jeoa.2022.100383