A professional man walking in a crowd along a city street.

A poll finds that Americans are concerned about their health, and have varied ideas of what causes health problems and what can be done to improve health.

The Issue:

Researchers explored a number of questions in surveys to determine Americans’ beliefs and concerns about health.

Key Findings Include

  • Most people are concerned about their health—very concerned (31%) or somewhat concerned (31%).

  • Americans do not see a single most important cause of individuals’ health problems. Top causes of health problems range from lack of access to high-quality medical care (42%), personal behavior (40%), viruses or bacteria (40%), high stress (37%), and being exposed to pollution (35%).

  • African-Americans are more likely than whites to see lack of access to care (56% v 41%), God’s will (41% v 29%), and low income (45% v 23%) as causes of health problems.

  • A substantial number of Americans report having had negative experiences in childhood that they believe impacted their future health. Nearly four in 10 Americans (39%) report that they had one or more childhood experiences that they believe have had a harmful effect on their health later in life.

  • The top five actions that Americans believe would improve health: access to affordable healthy food; reducing illegal drug use; reducing air, water, or chemical pollution; increasing access to quality health care; and improving the economy and job availability.

About the Study:

This telephone survey was conducted September–October 2014 as part of an ongoing series developed by a team of researchers at NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

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Live Webcast

This Forum event at Harvard School of Public Health, presented in collaboration with RWJF and NPR, investigated factors such as childhood experiences and poor diet from the perspective of experts and the U.S. public, as well as examined public perceptions of what impacts health and what actions can be taken to improve health.

Tune in to the video

Follow the conversation on Twitter at #whatshapeshealth

Coverage on National Public Radio

NPR is scheduling several stories this week and next, in conjunction with the release of the report, "What Shapes Health."

Follow the coverage

From the Blog

People Worry about Far More than Disease When it Comes to Health

During a Q&A with RWJF's Cathy Arnst, Robert Blendon of Harvard School of Public Health, who led the What Shapes Health study, talked about key poll findings.

Read the interview