Men and women subtly see their own health differently

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How secure you feel about your ability to keeping up good health habits and routines can depend on your gender, according to a Mayo Clinic study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior. By surveying the members of a little-used employee wellness center, Mayo Clinic researchers were able to discern subtle ways that men and women saw their own health differently.

The study surveyed 2,784 users at the Mayo Clinic Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, an employee wellness center.

“Our findings suggest that confidence in maintaining healthy habits can be influenced by gender and also depends on which specific habit is being assessed — physical activity, for example, versus diet,” says Richa Sood, M.D., a Mayo Clinic internist,  co-author and designer of the study, said in a release. “This is important information to keep in mind when designing wellness programs, to maximize their utilization and impact on employee health and wellness.”

There has been some pushback about employee wellness centers recently, both in the media and in the research world. Back in April, a major study among warehouse workers found that workplace wellness programs may not be so beneficial after all – offering no real effects on health outcomes.

The study

Researchers wanted to learn about the under-utilization of employee wellness centers, and any possible gender-specific reasons why. They began by distributing 11,427 surveys to those wellness centers, and 2,784 completed surveys came back. Of those, 68% were women, and the average age across genders was 49.

The survey questions about users’ health status and health conditions, their confidence in keeping up healthy habits, their stress levels, and social life. Men and women reported comparable levels of stress, and they both reported to be in favor of healthy living, according to the study. More men reported having hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and tobacco use than women. However, there was no significant gender difference in the perception of personal health.

Findings

There were some differences, although at first glance the men and women respondents seemed fairly similar.

“We were surprised by the finding that men felt they were as healthy as women despite having more medical problems,” Dr. Sood says.

Women had lower self-reported levels of physical activity and felt less confident that they would keep up their exercise.

“This difference may have cultural roots because gender has been shown to influence self-efficacy, particularly for physical activity,” said Dr. Sood. (Psychologist Albert Bandura has defined self-efficacy as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.) “Self-efficacy is not a gender-specific trait, said Dr. Sood. Still, “understanding gender differences among working adults can help optimize employee wellness services.”

Employee wellness centers under-used nationwide

In general,  employee wellness centers across the country remain underused, despite their status as an $8 billion industry.

“I am personally not convinced that lunchtime yoga and mason jars of trail mix are the antidotes to our global epidemic of workplace stress and burnout,” wrote Charlotte Lieberman in the Harvard Business Review. “For all the attention (and money spent) on workplace wellness, the jury is still out on whether these programs are really beneficial to our health.”

Amit Sood, M.D., a study co-author, owns the Global Center for Resilience and Wellbeing. Dr. Richa Sood is his spouse. Other authors reported no conflicts of interest or financial disclosures.