Study Shows Americans Are Unclear About Basic Health Guidelines

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Here’s another great reason to visit your primary care provider (PCP) once in a while, even if you’re not sick: Your PCP can help you navigate the ever-changing guidelines for preventive care, disease screenings, nutrition, and overall wellness.

One Medical Group recently surveyed more than 2,775 Americans to find out how much they know about basic health recommendations, such as how much they should be sleeping and drinking, or when they should be getting routine screenings. We found that on average, people are unclear on more than two-thirds of the basic guidelines for maintaining optimal health.

According to One Medical’s Malcolm Thaler, MD, “It’s not surprising that many people aren’t clear on basic health guidelines, because the recommendations do sometimes change and can vary from person to person, depending on their health history and other factors.”

Here’s what the survey revealed:

1. Americans are unclear on nearly 2/3 of basic health recommendations.

The survey showed that the average American can only answer 39 percent of basic health questions correctly. Much of the confusion appears to stem from guidelines that aren’t always agreed upon within the medical community, such as daily sleep and exercise minimums, or guidelines that occasionally change, such as timing for various cancer screenings.

Women may also have more health savvy than men, according to the survey. On average, women are able to answer about 14 percent more questions correctly than men, with 43 percent correct responses compared to men’s 38 percent.

The news isn’t all bad when it comes to health smarts: Both men and women generally know about the body mass index, or BMI (75 percent), when to use antibiotics (65 percent), and which conditions could be a precursor to diabetes (75 percent).

So we’ve got that going for us!

2. More education is needed around new cancer screening guidelines.

Unless you’re keeping a close eye on the latest medical news, you might not be aware of the most recent cancer screening guidelines. For example, just 29 percent of women know that current guidelines call for cervical cancer screening every 3 to 5 years when other risk factors aren’t present. Additionally, only 16 percent of women know that breast cancer screening should generally begin at age 50 when other risk factors aren’t present.

And did you know that prostate cancer screening is now generally not recommended for men without risk factors for prostate cancer? More than 94 percent of men weren’t aware of this, according to the survey.

3. Health knowledge increases with age.

According to the survey, we tend to be more on the ball about health recommendations as we get older. Respondents 60 and over answered 41 percent of questions correctly, while those aged 45 to 59 scored 40 percent correctly, and people aged 30-44 scored around 38 percent. People under the age of 30 answered just 36 percent correctly.

The difference in health knowledge is most pronounced when it comes to the consumption of alcohol: For example, while more than half (53 percent) of men aged 60 and over know to limit themselves to two alcoholic drinks per day for optimal health, only about a quarter (26 percent) of men between 18 and 29 are aware of this recommendation.

There was also a marked difference in awareness around colonoscopy guidelines; more than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents aged 45 to 59 knew that colonoscopies should generally start at age 50, while just 41 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds knew this.

4. “Health smarts” aren’t the same in every city.

Finally, how much you know might depend on where you live. People in Washington, DC had the most knowledge of basic health recommendations, with a score of 43 percent, followed by Minneapolis (42 percent), Boston (40 percent), and San Francisco (40 percent). The lowest scores were in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Phoenix (all about 37 percent).

Interestingly, the two most health-savvy cities – Washington, DC and Minneapolis – were also deemed the fittest on the American Fitness Index’s list of the healthiest metropolitan areas in the U.S.

So no matter what city you’re in… if the last time you saw a doctor was for your summer camp physical, it might be time to pay one a visit and get up to speed on your health.

About the One Medical Health Smarts Survey

In May and June of 2015, One Medical Group worked with SurveyMonkey to quiz 2,775 Americans about their knowledge of basic health guidelines, with questions covering preventive care, disease screening, nutrition, and overall wellness. Consumers from the top 15 Designated Market Areas (DMAs) were targeted in addition to consumers from across the nation. Respondents were split 53 percent female to 46 percent male and ranged in age from 18 to over 60 with 20 percent falling in the 18 to 29 bracket; 25 percent aged 30 to 44; 25 percent aged 45 to 59; and 29 percent aged 60 or older.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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