Emory study finds health care use, work productivity linked to health levels

While most American adults may not be patently sick, a vast majority of them still lack full health and vitality. This state of "incomplete" health has resulted in a loss of productivity in the workforce, and potentially increases health care costs in the long term, according to a new Emory University study published in the May issue of the Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health.

Using national survey data, Emory sociologist Corey Keyes examined the prevalence of mental and physical health issues among adults between the ages of 25 and 74, and how varying levels of health correlated to healthcare use and work productivity. Keyes found striking differences in productivity and healthcare visits among the healthiest and unhealthiest of those surveyed, and less than optimum levels of productivity among the incompletely healthy (those who reported some physical or mental health problems).

Overall, nearly 38 percent of completely unhealthy adults reported that they missed an entire day of work in the past 30 days, compared with 14 percent of those categorized as incompletely healthy, and just 8 percent of adults with complete mental and physical health. Also, completely unhealthy adults averaged 11 outpatient medical visits a year, compared with four visits among incompletely healthy adults and only two outpatient medical visits a year for completely healthy adults.

The results of the study demonstrate that health care providers and public health officials need to focus on the promotion of wellness to improve quality of life and increase productivity, and not just on the prevention and treatment of illness and injury, says Keyes, an associate professor of sociology and public health.

"We need to look at health as more than just the absence of illness and recognize that there are varying levels of health. Ultimately, we have it backwards -- we focus first on disease and illness instead of good health," Keyes says. "Rather

Contact: Beverly Cox Clark
Emory University Health Sciences Center

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