Don’t be overconfident—science shows that it can put your health at risk

According to recent research, people who overestimate their health visit a doctor 17.0% less often than those who accurately estimate their health.

People, especially the elderly, often overestimate their health.

Those who are older and overestimate their health visit a doctor less often. This can have major health consequences, for example when infections are identified too late. People who overestimate their illness, on the other hand, go to the doctor more often. Sonja Spitzer of the Institute of Demography at the University of Vienna and Mujahid Sheikh of the Herty School in Berlin found this in a new study based on data from more than 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and over. The Journal of Economics of Aging published the findings.

Our behavior is influenced 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 eating habits and lack of sleep.

People’s choices about their own health, such as whether or not to see a doctor, can be influenced 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 visit a doctor 17.0% less often than those who accurately estimate their health, which is important for preventive care such as reviews. Comparable results were observed for dental visits.

However, the frequency and length of hospital stays are not influenced by a person’s assessment of their own health; this is likely because hospital stays are more tightly regulated and often require a doctor’s referral.

Those who think they are sicker than they are see a doctor more often

The authors also found that people who underestimated their health visited a doctor 21% more often. On the one hand, there is the disadvantage that these additional visits may cause unnecessary costs, which is relevant given the aging population and the associated high public health costs. On the other hand, people who underestimate their health and therefore pay a lot of attention to it can be especially healthy in the long run, which can have a positive impact on society. In general, it is difficult for outsiders to judge which visits are justified and which are not.

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

First, participants were asked how they rated their health, such as whether they had trouble getting up from a chair after sitting for long periods of time. Participants were then required to actually get up from a chair during a test – thus determining whether someone was overestimating, underestimating, or correctly assessing their health. The researchers also looked at misjudgments related to memory and mobility. Overall, the majority of survey participants correctly assessed their health (79%), 11% overestimated and 10% underestimated.

Who knows about their health?

With their new study, the researchers build on previous research showing that perceptions of health differ significantly by 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 tended to overestimate their health, while people in central and eastern Europe often underestimated their health. Educated people are also more likely to correctly assess their health. Scholars’ call: Focus more on health education and health literacy. How healthy we feel can affect how healthy we actually are in the long run.

Reference: “Health Misperception and Health Care Utilization Among Older Europeans” by Sonja Spitzer and Mujaheed Shaikh, April 8, 2022. Journal of the Economics of Aging.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jeoa.2022.100383

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