3.5 People's views on health
Health accounts, as well as being based in the experience of health, also relate to health behaviour. People's accounts of health are likely to be different at different stages in their lives. Two health promotion researchers, Backett and Davison (1992), have investigated the perceptions of health at different stages of life. Their work is based on two qualitative studies conducted in Edinburgh and South Wales. In these studies, health was also linked to health behaviours. The stage of life was, they found, an important factor for their respondents in considering what was reasonable health behaviour. So, while burning the candle at both ends was an acceptable and even life-enhancing behaviour for young people, it was thought to be inappropriate and damaging to older people. The issue for middle-aged and older respondents was whether it was too late to change to the health promoting behaviours currently being urged on people. Many were aware of the damage that had already been done both by the environment and their previous lifestyles. But also as people got older they were less impressed by health education messages, as Backett and Davison note:
Their ideas about effective or ineffective healthy behaviours were now strongly grounded in experience; and many were scathing about the faddishness of current healthy ideas. Rather, they extolled ideas which they felt were commonsense, such as paying attention to weather conditions, wearing sensible clothing and treating minor ailments sensibly.
(Backett and Davison, 1992, p. 58)
The ways in which people explain health, especially in later life, are very likely to be affected by their experience of health and, as we know, good health is not equally distributed throughout the population. The issue of inequalities in health is a very important one, both for the delivery of healthcare and for health policy. The next activity asks you to review what you have learned so far about the factors influencing people's views on health.
Activity 6: Factors influencing people's views on health
Make a list of the factors that you see as likely to influence people's accounts of health.
You might have mentioned the influence of people's job, class or educational background, their sex and gender, their race and ethnicity, their age and generation. Health education messages can also have an impact, and this is particularly the case for young people. But perhaps the most damaging influences on how people feel about their health come from poverty and social deprivations such as homelessness.
People's experience of health will be a mixture of their individual life history and the experiences they share with others in their social, economic and cultural group. Their explanation of health will be very much bound up with making sense of their individual biographies, with all the cross-cutting variables of cohort, class, gender and race. Now we are going to move on from, exploring differences in health accounts found in different social groupings to the differences between lay and professional accounts.