Gender and Race Affect How Americans View Their Own Health

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A study co-authored by CHR’s David Feeny found that American women who are obese reported significantly lower health-related quality of life than their obese male counterparts. The same study, published in the journal Quality of Life Research, found that blacks who were overweight reported higher health-related quality of life than their normal weight or obese peers.

Health-related quality of life is a common measurement researchers use to assess a person’s perception of their own health. It does not involve independent measurements taken by doctors or health care providers, but instead asks respondents to rate their own physical and mental health in categories including cognition, vision, speech, hearing, activity, pain, mobility, self-care, vitality, anxiety and depression.

For this particular study, nearly 4,000 Americans were asked up to 266 questions during telephone surveys that lasted an average of 45 minutes. The questions were drawn from six widely used health-related quality of life survey instruments. Most previous studies of this kind were less comprehensive, relying on just one or two of the instruments.

The heavier a person was, the more likely they were to report worse health. At least that was the case for the majority of survey respondents. But when researchers separated results by race, they found that blacks who reported the best health were those in the overweight category. They also found that obese women rated their own health much lower than obese men.

Feeny and lead author Tanya Bentley from the Partnership for Health Analytic Research point out that their study did not look at why extra weight was less of a burden for blacks and more of a burden for women. These questions, they say, should be explored in future studies.

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