Surprisingly, many participants still rated their health highly despite having a high number of chronic health conditions. “A lot of people had hypertension and obesity, and they really didn’t engage in healthy behaviors, but they still rated their own health as good to excellent,” says Baruth.
One explanation might be the benefits of church attendance, study authors speculated. “Our follow-up analysis found that those who had higher church attendance also had higher self-rated health,” said Baruth. Having larger social networks and support from regular church attendance may negate the influence of poor health and unhealthy behaviors, the authors said.
Winston Wong, M.D., director of Disparities Improvement and Quality Initiatives at Kaiser Permanente, who is not associated with the study, suggested that this unexpected finding might also reflect what’s considered “healthy” in the African American community.
“For example, high blood pressure may be regarded as a ‘normal’ part of the aging process. Since it commonly has very few symptoms, individuals may perceive their health as relatively good, even though their blood pressure may be untreated or insufficiently controlled,” he said.
Since the norm for “average” health might include many people with serious chronic conditions, study participants who rated their health as “poor” may have an especially pronounced risk of poor health outcomes, he explained.
Nevertheless, the study suggests that “the importance of emotional, psychological and spiritual health—[they] can have as much relevance to individuals as physiologic measures of health or the diagnosis of a medical condition,” Wong commented.
From the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health. Reprinted with permission.