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Health surveys


Learning objectives:You will learn about health surveys, including the iceberg concept and the general household survey.

Please read the resource section below.

Resource text

Health surveys

Self reported health is by its nature subjective, and different people will have different thresholds for what is considered "serious" or "very painful". Definitions can change over time as well. Conversely, people can forget illnesses that they have had, or choose to withhold information. However, only a proportion of people experiencing ill-health make contact with health services. Self reported ill-health can therefore help to show more of the burden of ill-health in the population that is otherwise "under the line".

Figure 1: The iceberg concept

Source: Donaldson and Donaldson 'Essential Public Health' 2nd edition.

Sources of information on self-reported health

Census: Question on self reported general health and long term limiting illness.

Health survey for England

Carried out annually since 1991, The Health Survey for England is a series of annual national surveys about the health and related behaviours of people in England involving about 16,000 adults. It combines a questionnaire with taking some physical measurements and blood samples. Questions on specific diseases, such as cardio-vascular disease and accidents, are also asked at certain intervals. However, its sample size is currently not large enough to provide PCT/local authority level data. It is open to concerned organisations to sponsor a boost of the health survey for England. The London Health Observatory did so in 2006 to provide an increased sample of London residents on specific aspects of health related behaviours. Collection of the data began in February 2006 and takes 12 months to complete. Data from the survey is expected in summer - autumn of 2007. More details can be found at the London Health Observatory.

Data from previous Health Surveys for England is available at the UK Data Archive> .

General Household Survey

The General Household survey is conducted every year and involves approximately 13,000 adults in Great Britain. It provides information on all sorts of areas for government departments. On health issues, questions include acute illness in the last 2 weeks, illness over the last year, presence of chronic illness, consultations with a doctor, visits to hospital, and smoking and alcohol consumption. The General Household survey has indicated an increase in self-reported long standing illness.