Poll: U.S. public sees ill health as resulting from broad range of causes

2 min read

A new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll finds that more than six in ten people living in the U.S. (62%) are concerned about their future health. Nearly four in ten (39%) said that they had one or more negative childhood experiences that they believe had a harmful impact on their adult health.

Causes of ill health

“When the public thinks about the causes of ill health, it’s not just about germs. They also see access to medical care, personal behavior, stress, and pollution as affecting health,” said Robert J. Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

When given a list of 14 factors that might cause ill health, the top five causes cited by the public as extremely important are lack of access to high-quality medical care (42%), personal behavior (40%), viruses or bacteria (40%), high stress (37%), and exposure to air, water, or chemical pollution (35%).

Those rankings diverge, however, among ethnic groups. African-Americans are more likely than whites to perceive lack of access to high-quality medical care (56% to 41%), God’s will (47% to 29%), having a low income (45% to 23%), and not having enough education (41% to 26%) as extremely important causes of individuals’ health problems. Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (46% to 31%) to say that bad working conditions are extremely important.