'Health Shame' leads Brits to lie about their lifestyles

Article date: 4 January 2008

  • Almost half claim to be thinner, fitter, non-smokers to get jobs and dates

Shame about unhealthy lifestyles means almost half of Brits are regularly lying to present themselves as thinner, fitter, non-smoking teetotallers, according to a study released today.

The Norwich Union "Health Shame" study shows four in five (82%) Brits believe appearing healthy makes you more attractive, making first dates a hot spot for lifestyle lies - indeed, over a quarter (28%) told researchers they feared they would never get a partner if they didn't fib about their health. Two in five (41%) also think the truth about their bad habits would put off potential employers.

With over half (58%) saying they are embarrassed about their lifestyles, the study found we are so ashamed about our habits that we also regularly fib to friends, family, doctors, and even on forms about:

  • Our weight (36%)
  • How much junk food we eat and exercise we do (28%)
  • Our alcohol intake (24%)
  • And whether or not we smoke (14%).

Nine in 10 (93%) respondents say they feel social pressure nowadays to appear to be a healthy person, while more than four in five (84%) say people nowadays are competitive about how healthy they are.

Commenting on the Norwich Union study, psychologist Corinne Sweet said: "People can minimise their bad habits when put on the spot at the doctor's or when registering at the gym because they fear facing the truth about their behaviour, or feel guilty or embarassed, about what they're really doing to their health. 

"Some people convince themselves they're better than they are, but some downright lie, hoping to get away with it. The problem is, being economical with the truth about your bad habits means you won't do anything to improve your health. Plus, you may be sitting on a health timebomb, like heart disease, without realising, until it's too late."

Norwich Union commissioned its "Health Shame" study, following a pilot it did this summer year in which it invited 5,000 of its existing protection policyholders to review their initial applications and notify the company of any medical details which they may have missed off their original forms.  The first wave of research shows that one in 14 policies carry inaccurate information that could make them null and void.

The "Health Shame" study backs up this pilot by confirming that filling in forms is the situation when we are most likely to lie about our health - 15% say they have or might not have been entirely honest when filling in forms for insurance policies. 

Willie Mowatt, director of protection, Norwich Union, who led the study, said: "We all want others to think we are healthy but it becomes dangerous when our claims do not match reality. Exaggerating, or omitting to provide information on insurance policy forms can render them void, so it means that you may be paying out money to cover a policy that is invalid and will never pay out.

"Finding out that you will not receive money from a policy can be distressing as  well as financially crippling. So it's vital people disclose their full medical history at the outset of the policy, And policyholders who have given up smoking for 12 months or more can even save money if they notify their insurance about this healthy switch." 

The Norwich Union "Health Shame" study also found that:

  • "Health Shame" hits men hardest, with half (52%) lying regularly, compared with women (43%)
  • Scots are the biggest health fibbers with nearly 60% saying they are not always truthful about their health, followed by the Welsh (54%) and then Londoners (53%)
  • Women are more likely to lie about how much junk food they eat (32% for women compared to 22% for men)
  • Women are most likely to lie about their weight (42% for women compared to 22% for men)
  • Women are also more likely to lie about the amount of exercise they do (30% for women compared to 22% for men).

The top situations in which we are most likely to lie include:

  • When talking to friends and family (43%)
  • When talking to the doctor (25%)
  • When talking to parents (21%)
  • When applying for a job (17%)
  • When filling in application forms (15%).

And the top reasons why people may not be honest about their health include:

  • Embarrassment (62%)
  • Desire to live healthier lifestyles (47%)
  • Shame that others will think they don't take responsibility for their health (43%)
  • Fear it will put off potential employers, insurers etc. (42%)
  • Fear it will put off potential boyfriends/girlfriends (30%).


For further information:
Jess Gooch
Telephone: 0207 908 6447 / 07970 152155
E-mail: jgooch@lexispr.com

Notes to Editors:
Norwich Union commissioned Tickbox.net to interview 1,460 UK adults in October 2007. Regional statistics are available on request.

About Norwich Union
Norwich Union is one of the UK's biggest life insurers. It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest financial adviser (FA) providers. FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.

Norwich Union has strategic alliances with building societies and other leading UK brand names including CIS and The Royal Bank of Scotland Group. Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at www.aviva.com/media

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