More than half of the population do not believe they will get cancer, stroke or heart disease, research says
A nationwide study of 3,000 adults by AIG Life has found that 54% assume they will not suffer from any of the three most common causes of death during their lifetime, a mind-set the insurer has described as ‘illness denial'.
The research suggests that as many as 18.3 million people are burying their head in the sand regarding critical illnesses, while 77% of UK adults said they would experience financial problems if they developed a serious illness in the next six months and 26% said they would encounter ‘significant' financial problems.
A third (34%) said that they would need to rely on friends and family for financial support if they suffered a serious illness later in life.
Older people are more realistic when it comes to illness, the survey found, with only 27% of those aged over 55 convinced that serious medical conditions will never happen to them compared with 44% of younger people.
"The AIG Life survey highlights the fundamental disconnect between public health information and individuals' beliefs of their own risk of illness," said chartered psychologist and scientist Dr Meg Arroll. "In other words, even though there have been numerous campaigns which clearly state the high frequency of health conditions like cancer, heart disease and stroke, this information does not directly equate to individuals' personal perception of risk.
"Research shows that many people demonstrate an optimism bias, whereby they believe they are less likely to experience key health conditions than data would suggest. Cognitive factors that lead to this misconception include: a lack of personal experience of a condition: a belief that if symptoms have not yet appeared, they are unlikely to in the future; believing that a condition is uncommon."
Just 22% questioned said they expected to be affected by cancer in their lifetime, yet those born after 1960 said the risk was 50% - AIG Life said this equates to 14.2 million people living with ‘cancer denial' in the UK.
In reality, Cancer Research UK data suggests that 38% of cancer cases are preventable with lifestyle changes, with early diagnosis through NHS cancer screenings vital to increasing chances of survival.
Regarding heart disease, only 17% believe they will be affected, while official British Heart Foundation stats show heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter (26%) of all deaths in the UK.
Strokes, meanwhile, are the leading cause of death and disability in the UK, according to the UK government. However only 7% think it would have happen to them.
Illness denial is understandable as nobody wants to think about the worst happening to them and we all like to believe it won't be us or our loved ones," said Debbie Bolton, head of underwriting and claims strategy at AIG Life.
"It's comforting to know that we are all living longer and government statistics show that around one in three children born today can expect to live to see their 100th birthday and their parents and grandparents can look forward to long lives too," she continued. "However, our extended lives mean we may live in poor health for longer and sometimes with more than one serious illness.
"Taking a realistic and practical approach to the risk of illness and the need for financial protection will help us all to plan for the future. If we also take steps to improve our lifestyle we can move into our later years in good health."
The survey also found that ‘illness denial' is highest in the East of England, with almost 47% believing that they won't be affected by one of the major causes of death, while people in East Midlands are the most realistic - less than a quarter (24%) thinking it won't happen to them.
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