American Health Values Survey

2020 update: A national survey explores how adults in the United States think about health on a personal, community and societal level.

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Typology reflects diversity of values and beliefs toward health.

The American Health Values Survey explores how adults in the United States think about health on a personal, community and societal level. The survey measures the importance of personal health, how individuals define health and how it manifests in everyday behaviors. There are also measures of what adults in the United States believe about the social determinants of health, the role of government in addressing them and what they value most for their own communities.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation worked with researchers from NORC at the University of Chicago to better understand the extent to which health is a shared value in the United States.

The survey has been conducted two times. Data for wave 1 of the survey was collected in 2015–2016 with wave 2 administered in 2019–2020. A probability-based, representative sample of adults living in the United States was surveyed by phone (landline and cell), online, or mail for each wave. The wave 1 data set included 10,574 respondents. The wave 2 data set included 8,261 respondents.  

Noteworthy trends from 2016–2020:

  • More adults say health should be a top priority for the Federal government (increase from 32% to 43%) and that the government generally should do more to promote health.

  • More adults recognized that it’s harder for African-Americans, Latinos and people with low-income to get health care. But only 36% recognize that discrimination within the healthcare system is a reason for poor health outcomes among African-Americans and 37% for Latinos.

  • More adults say they value the importance of health equity and equality of opportunity in general. Adults reporting that our country should do whatever is necessary to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to be healthy increased from 58% to 62%.

  • More adults reported trusting in science and health experts (increase from 66% to 74%).

  • Fewer adults believe that access to quality food, education, housing, job security and other determinants of health have a strong effect on health.

  • Fewer adults report making personal health a priority in their daily life (decrease from 43% to 38%).

2020 Survey Findings

  • 74% of respondents believe that some people have less opportunity to succeed than others, with the majority of people believing those with low incomes and African-Americans have less opportunity to succeed.

  • About six in ten adults in the United States agree that the country should do whatever is necessary to reduce the large differences in income that exist in the nation.

  • About half of adults in the United States agree that unhealthy neighborhoods are an important reason for the poorer health outcomes experienced by African-Americans and Latinos.

Overview of the Typology  

Using the results from the survey, the researchers created a typology or classification of U.S. adults based on their health values and beliefs. There are six different groups within the typology: Committed Activists, Equity Realists, Equity Idealists, Self-Reliant Individualists, Disinterested Skeptics and Private-Sector Champions. 

Most adults (55%) fall into one of the first three groups, which are generally supportive of efforts to build healthier and more equitable communities. About 33 percent fall into groups that are skeptical about the promotion of health and health equity in the United States (Self-Reliant Individualists and Disinterested Skeptics), and the remaining 12 percent fall into a group (Private-Sector Champions) that has mixed views.

Review methodology and data tables »

Typology Groups

What follows is a breakdown of each group, the values they care about, their demographics, and other distinguishing characteristics.

Effective advocacy starts with understanding how audiences think about an issue.  Download our communications guide to understand your audiences, identify channels for reaching them, and to craft messages that will be most effective.

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