Lumps & Bumps: Just How Good are we at Checking Our Bodies

Introduction

The team at Beagle Street have recently released Body MOT: a new health-check guide which we put together with expert advice from BBC World News’ own Dr. Ayan Panja (you can read our interview with him here).

To accompany the tool, we’ve carried out some research to find out just how often people check their own bodies for signs of critical illness (for example, examining moles and taking blood pressure), and general attitudes to regular health check-ups.

The survey was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Beagle Street to a nationally representative sample. The sample size was 2,064 GB adults aged 18 or over, carried out online from 9th-10th December, 2015.

Please read on for an analysis of the results.

At a Glance

● 68% of men and 57% of women do not know how to perform a comprehensive health check, looking for basic signs of critical illness like blood pressure level and mole examination.
● One quarter (25%) of those aged 55 and over only check their body for critical signs of illness once a year or less, if at all.
● 17% of British men never check their body for signs of critical illnesses – representing around 4.1 million* men nationwide.
● Nearly all drivers (91%) would check the health and upkeep of their vehicle at least once a year; however only 63% would check their own body for signs of critical illness in the same time period.
● Of the things listed, most respondents surveyed online prioritise regularly checking personal devices and social media (29%) over carrying out a self-check-up – and almost one quarter (23%) of men prioritise sports updates or news.

Background

The NHS recommends that all UK adults carry out self-checks regularly to look for signs of critical illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers. However, it seems that many people still aren’t sure how to carry out comprehensive checks at home, and often it isn’t considered a priority as part of day-to-day life. So how often should we be checking ourselves?

Beagle Street has released the Body MOT tool to help people carry out general body tests at home. Although only a guide and in no way a replacement for seeing the doctor in person, the tool focuses on individual parts of the body, offering practical advice on what to do and when to contact a GP.

In an interview with Beagle Street, Dr. Ayan Panja said: “Every few months is adequate [to carry out Body MOT checks] … Looking out for changes in any body part or system is an ongoing process. A good time to do it may be when you’re having a bath. The main thing is not to ignore a new finding.”

We found that women were generally savvier than men when it came to carrying out health checks. Speaking about the gender divide in how men and women approach their own bodies’ health, Dr. Panja was unsurprised with the results that indicate men generally prioritise health checks less than women: “Men are notorious for ignoring their health! There are lots of reasons and, to be fair, things are improving but men are still around twice as less likely to visit the doctor than women. Part of it is being brought up to ‘crack on’ despite ailments and illnesses, and another element is that doctors’ surgeries have historically been baby and woman friendly.”

Findings

Gender divide in attitude to body health

Women are overall more likely to prioritise their body health; over one-quarter (26%) gave checking for critical illness as their top priority to do regularly, compared to just 16% of men. Only 58% of men check their body for signs of critical illnesses more than once a year – 15% less than women (73%).

When asked how often men and women check certain aspects of their lives, such as car maintenance, financial health, current events and sports, we found that nearly a third (29%) of British male vehicle owners would check their vehicle more than once a month, yet less than 1 in 10 (9%) never check their body for signs of critical illness. Furthermore, 58% of men in Britain will check for sports updates at least once a week but only 23% would check their bodies weekly.

Perhaps of most concern, is that 17% of men in Britain say they never check their body for signs for critical illness: across Britain this could account for around 4.1 million* men. This number is particularly concerning because younger people are also an age group less likely to carry out health checks, despite this age group (aged 20-35) being most at risk of male health issues such as testicular cancer, which relies on self-checking for early diagnosis1.

Personal devices and social media considered a higher priority than body health
While regular body checks were considered a high priority, there was one thing that factored in higher of the things listed – 29% said they consider checking their personal devices their highest priority, over just 21% who put body check-ups first.

It’s hardly surprising: 64% of us check our devices more than once a day for emails and social media updates. It’s perhaps also unsurprising that this correlates with age; 48% of adults under 25 put their smartphone first, while those 55 and over were the only age group with more people prioritising regular checks of their body health (27%) over their personal devices (21%).

One third have never had a GP check-up
While 37% of people see a GP for a check-up at least once a year, 30% go less than once a year – and 33% never make the visit. Of those who visit less than once a year, most people say they don’t like to waste their GP’s time (30%) or don’t see the point of seeing a doctor when they are feeling well (40%). Just over a quarter (26%) also said that they find it difficult to get an appointment at their local GP surgery.

Respondents were asked at what age they feel it appropriate to start going to a GP for regular health check-ups. The most common answer with 20% was between the ages of 45 and 54, but even more people – a whopping 36% – felt it was not appropriate at any age.

The NHS recommends a regular health check once every five years for people aged 40-702. Despite this, 27% of those aged 45-54 and 19% of those 55 or over have never made an appointment for a check-up. Revealingly, nearly two-thirds (62%) of all respondents who visit the GP for a check-up less than once a year would be more likely to have a regular health check if their doctor recommended it to them.

More guidance required to encourage health checks at home
Of all respondents, 62% said they don’t know how to perform a comprehensive health check-up on themselves at home. Again, these results correlate with age – older groups are far more clued up, with 51% of those 55 or over responding positively compared to just 22% of those under 25.

However, 68% said they would be “very likely” or “fairly likely” to perform health checks at home if provided with clear advice and demonstrations. Even among the younger age groups, the likelihood is high: 60% of those under 25 and 63% of those aged 25-34 said they would be likely to check themselves over regularly if they had the resources to guide them through it.

Sources
1 http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/men1839/Pages/Menshealthweek.aspx
2 http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/pages/nhs-health-check-questions-faq.aspx

*Calculated by Steak Group based on ONS 2014 population statistics of 24,103,112 men aged 18+ in Great Britain. 16.87% of this figure is 4,066,195.

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