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Mathematics and your Health – Are you just a number?

Math was definitely not my best subject in school.  I loved the logic of algebra but had difficulty memorizing the proofs, and geometry seemed like science fiction with all those planes and lines intersecting in space.  But now I wish I had paid more attention.

Seems like even our members of congress who can’t figure out how to balance a budget or run the business of the United States government should have spent more time in math class and less time in political science.

Statistics and probabilities – entire industries are based on the odds of certain outcomes.  The auto insurance industry, life insurance, and well even the gambling industry.

But I personally never wanted to be a statistic.  I wanted to feel more unique and special a one of a kind.  And in some respects I am.  But statistics can help me in quantifying my health.

There is a lot to learn in the numbers and statistics that are gathered and calculated that can help with understanding your health.

What a Health Assessment Can Provide for an Individual

A Health Risk Assessment can give you unique information into how you stack up to the population of your country or even sometimes of the world.  Here are the things that a health risk assessment can tell you:

Where do you have health risks? For instance:

Is your alcohol consumption outside of healthy?

Is your weight adding to your health risks?

Does your family history of certain diseases make you more susceptible to some common health problems that you and your doctor may need to be keeping an eye on?

Does the amount of time you spend in the car, hurt your life expectancy?

Where are you outside of ideal?

Identify where you may need actual medical help.

What are some habits you yourself can change to improve your health.

How long you might expect to live.

What the current picture of your health is as defined in mathematical terms.

 

What is a Health Risk Assessment?

A health risk assessment takes your answers to a series of questions and runs those answers through algorithms based on previously gathered data from such places as mortality data from the world health organization and based on those answers can give you statistical information (math again, I told you it was more important than you thought) about your health based on the population at large.  You may see them called many things besides a health risk assessment, a HRA, a health appraisal, and a health assessment questionnaire, they are all the same thing.

It is simple, painless, and can provide you with important information about your health.

The more you know about your current health status the more accurate your health risk assessment results will tell you.

There are simple things you should know like:

Your sex, your age, your ethnicity

There are some medical numbers(often called biometrics) that are helpful like:

Your blood pressure numbers

Your cholesterol numbers

Your height and weight

Your blood glucose numbers

The more information and the more specific information that you can provide the more accurate the risk analysis will be.

 

Why should you take a health risk assessment?

Some people love surprises, I am not one of those people.  But when it comes to your health most of us don’t want surprises.  Health problems tend to affect every aspect of your life, your ability to go to work, your ability to play or participate in the activities you love, your bank account is generally hit hard when health issues arise and you often become dependent on friends and family more than you ever wanted or expected.

Establishes a Base Line

A health risk assessment can give you a base line of where you are at right now with your health.  Not where you want to be (don’t fudge the numbers) where you are right now.  An assessment gives you that picture in a statistical way.  Not an emotional way.

Reveals Areas of Risk

OK when it comes to our health even the fittest person may have a cholesterol number that they are not happy with.  So don’t beat yourself up in the comparison game.  But you may not realize some small changes that you could make that can improve your overall health picture.  A health risk assessment can make you aware of your potential risk areas.

Did you realize that having a large baby can increase your risk for diabetes?  Well it can.  So you may want to watch for warning signs of becoming diabetic.  You may need to do some research to discover what those signs are but now you know.  You can be in a little more control of your health and wellbeing than you thought possible.

Quantifies Improvement

How do you know when you’ve gotten better at something?  If your bowling average improves, you’re doing better.  If you can run (or in my case walk) a mile faster this year than you could last year, you would agree you are improving your speed?  If you get a better score on this year’s attempt at the bar exam, you know you are getting closer to your goal.

When it comes to your health how do you know you are getting healthier?  You compare your old health risk assessment with a new health risk assessment.  Remember your first assessment established some base line numbers.  You are a little older now, and hopefully you have improved some of your habits.  It is time to take another assessment.  This time you will have the old numbers to compare your score with.  Are you getting healthier?  Are your risk area percentages decreasing?

You can now examine the numbers!  Yea hopefully your scores are improving, your risks diminishing and you feel and look better.

Provides Helpful Resources

An assessment often will provide you with resources whether online or paper pamphlets that give you specific information on helping with risk areas.  If you are struggling with weight gain, there are many approaches to help you lose weight from weight watchers to supplements.  Or maybe you just need to know how long you need to walk every day to burn those excess calories.  Many assessments will provide you with links if online or free information to help you get to where you want to go.  At least the good assessments will.  But if you find the assessment you have taken does not you can ask your health care provider for information on your areas of risk, check out books in the library, or go online and Google the specific information you desire.

 

Can health risk assessments be beneficial to understanding groups of people, like employers or clubs?

Health assessments are great for identifying trends in groups of people.  Let say you are in employer and for most employers their largest expense is their workforce.  There is nothing more costly or important to the success of any business then the people who make that business successful.

By utilizing a health risk assessment a business can not only help its employees understand more about their health individually it can also determine the highest percentage of risk areas for the group as a whole.

For example let’s say after reviewing the aggregate data for a group of employees the employer discovers that 90% of his workforce has not taken advantage of a free yearly doctor checkup that is provided in the current company health insurance policy.  It has been shown (statistically) that catching diseases or health issues early increasing the chance for better outcomes.  Meaning the early you know the more likely you are to be cured.

With this information the employer can now address this issue by challenging each department to a contest.  The department that gets all its members in for their free yearly checkup gets an additional paid 30 minutes added to their paycheck (You pick the reward, it could be that they can wear blue jeans to work every Friday for a month.)  It just needs to a reward that motivates the employees to make their health as important to them as it is to the productivity of the business.

Or maybe your sorority or club would take an assessment and based on the group data realize that many members are still smoking.  Now your club could take some positive action and have speakers address ways to quit smoking at the next luncheon.

You see the assessment can provide unique information about the group as a whole that can then be used for the good of the group.

It should be noted, that anytime an employer is looking at group or aggregate data that data should not identify specific individuals.  Privacy must be maintained on the individual level!!!

 

Where can you find a health risk assessment?

With the Internet (What did we do before the computer made it into our homes?) you can find many sources for online assessment tools.  And many of the health assessments are free and that doesn’t mean that the information they provide is not good, accurate and valid.  Just look for a site that has been up for a long time and states that they will not sell or divulge any information to an outside source.  You do want your information to remain private.

Health risk assessments used to mainly be paper forms you filled out and then the data was entered into the computer.  But now, you can do the whole thing online.  The benefit of this is the results can be tabulated (math again) immediately and you control with your user name and password who has access to the data and results.

 

How to determine a good health risk assessment?

First off the algorithms used in computing the data must be based on peer reviewed scientific studies.  The algorithms must be updated with the latest mortality data available.

A good assessment will ask questions in such a way that meaning is clear.

A good assessment will provide results that are easy to understand.

A good assessment will provide links and resources to help you address your individual areas of risk.

A good assessment will keep your information private, with user and password information supplied by the user.

If you are an employer a good assessment needs to have good reporting that will provide the employer with information regarding the risks associated with his specific group.

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