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Health Issues Most Stressful Event in American Lives

  • Published: 2014-07-11 : Harvard School of Public Health (Marge Dwyer - mhdwyer@hsph.harvard.edu - Ph. 17-432-8416).
  • Synopsis: Study provides statistics and looks at how health problems are the major stress event in average American lives.

Main Document

Quote: "It is not widely recognized how many Americans have a major stressful event over the course of a year, or how often health problems are the cause"

A new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) poll released today that examines the role of stress in Americans' lives finds that about half of the public (49%) reported that they had a major stressful event or experience in the past year. Nearly half (43%) reported that the most stressful experiences related to health.

"It is not widely recognized how many Americans have a major stressful event over the course of a year, or how often health problems are the cause," says Robert J. Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at HSPH.

"Stress touches everyone. Unfortunately, many of those feeling the most stress get trapped in cycles that can be very unhealthy. If we are going to build a culture of health in America, one big step we can take is recognizing the causes and effects not just of our own stress and the stress of those closest to us, but of others we encounter in our day-to-day lives. That recognition can go a long way in helping us create healthier environments in our homes, workplaces and communities," says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO.

High levels of stress in the last month

Significant impact on lives

Bad effects on emotional well-being (63%) are the most common health effect reported by those with a great deal of stress in the last month, followed by problems with sleep (56%) and difficulty in thinking, concentrating, or making decisions (50%).

About half of those with a great deal of stress as well as a chronic illness or disability say stress made the symptoms worse (53%) or made it harder for them to manage their chronic illness or disability (52%).

In addition, many report significant impacts from stress in other spheres of their lives.

Efforts to manage high levels of stress

Those who have experienced a great deal of stress over the past month tried to reduce their stress in many ways. Most who had experienced a great deal of stress in the last month and taken steps to manage it say each of the things they did to reduce stress were effective.

Methodology

This poll is part of an ongoing series of surveys developed by researchers at the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) at Harvard School of Public Health in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR. The research team consists of the following members at each institution.

Harvard School of Public Health: Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis and Executive Director of HORP; Gillian K. SteelFisher, Research Scientist and Assistant Director of HORP; Kathleen J. Weldon, Research and Administrative Manager; John M. Benson, Research Scientist and Managing Director of HORP, and Mandy Brule, Research Specialist.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Fred Mann, Associate Vice President, Communications; Carolyn Miller, Senior Program Officer, Research-Evaluation-Learning; and Ari Kramer, Communications Officer.

NPR: Anne Gudenkauf, Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk; Joe Neel, Deputy Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk.

Interviews were conducted via telephone (including both landline and cell phone) by SSRS of Media (PA), March 3 - April 8, 2014, among a nationally representative sample of 2,505 adults age 18 and older. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for total respondents is +/- 2.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Of the total sample, 633 said they have experienced a great deal of stress in the past month. The margin of error for this group is +/- 4.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Possible sources of non-sampling error include non-response bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Non-response in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases and for variations in probability of selection within and across households, sample data are weighted by household size, cell phone/landline use, and demographics (sex, age, race/ethnicity, education, marital status, and census region) to reflect the true population. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.

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