Saying What Ails Them

As we’ve noted in writing about past surveys, when people are asked to assess their health, they typically tell pollsters it’s fine, thanks. A different picture emerges, though, when they’re asked about specific ailments, as we can see in Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index polling fielded throughout 2009.

Thirty-one percent of respondents reported suffering from high blood pressure and 28 percent from high cholesterol. Seventeen percent reported having depression, 11 percent asthma, 11 percent diabetes and 7 percent cancer. Five percent have had a heart attack.

Women are on the wrong side of a sizable gender gap in the incidence of depression, with 22 percent saying they suffer from this condition, vs. 13 percent of men. Asthma is also more common among women than men (13 percent vs. 9 percent), while men are more likely to report having had a heart attack (6 percent vs. 4 percent).

As you’d guess, older people are especially likely to have serious health problems. For instance, 59 percent of those 65-plus have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, as have 37 percent of the 45-64s, 16 percent of the 30-44s and 8 percent of the 18-29s. High cholesterol afflicts 49 percent of the 65-plusers, vs. 35 percent of the 45-64s, 16 percent of the 30-44s and 5 percent of the 18-29s. Asthma is an exception to the general pattern, with the incidence of this ailment highest (at 13 percent) among the 18-29s. Keep in mind, though, that people who go to a doctor less often (as tends to be true of young adults) may simply not know of some conditions they have.

Race and ethnicity are also sharp dividing lines where some ills are concerned. Black respondents were more likely than their white counterparts to have high blood pressure (39 percent vs. 31 percent), but were less likely to have been diagnosed with high cholesterol (24 percent vs. 30 percent) or cancer (5 percent vs. 8 percent).