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 WASHINGTON, March 11 /PRNewswire/ -- At a time when the nation can least afford it, Americans are slipping in several important health habits, according to a new nationwide survey.
 During 1992, Americans gained weight, ate less carefully than in 1991, and exercised no more than they did a decade ago, according to the 1992 Baxter Survey of American Health Habits. The survey was conducted by Louis Harris and Associates, which has been tracking health habits for 10 years.
 The 1992 survey is sponsored by Baxter International, working in partnership with hospitals nationwide. Because the cost of preventing illness is much less than the cost of treating it, the company is working with nearly 2,000 hospitals -- one out of every three community hospitals across the country -- to launch local programs to get Americans to improve their health habits.
 The most significant improvements made recently in health behavior across the nation are in areas such as seatbelt use and the use of smoke detectors, where good habits are required by law, the survey reports. When it comes to voluntary health habits, the nation is at best holding the line, and at worst slipping from gains made in the early- to mid- 1980s.
 "The survey is a worrisome sign that we're becoming careless about preventative health care," said Vernon R. Loucks, chairman and chief executive officer of Baxter International, headquartered in Deerfield, Ill. "This is disturbing because personal health is one of the few areas of our lives over which we each have direct control. If we individually don't take steps to protect ourselves, we sacrifice what is probably our single best opportunity to contain health-care costs.
 "That's why we are working with hospitals across the country to make sure this essential information about health behavior and risk reaches the American public."
 The survey suggests that an aggressive information campaign by hospitals, as well as the careful use of financial incentives, might produce real improvements in the nation's health habits. Taking the initiative, more than 1,800 hospitals are launching programs this week to educate their communities on better health habits. These programs include local news briefings, community meetings, hospital publications and other efforts.
 Survey Index Reports Main Trends
 According to the survey index -- a measure of the proportion of Americans who have engaged in 11 preventative health behaviors over the past 10 years -- the biggest gains in health habits were made in 1984 and 1985. Improvements continued through the late '80s, but have been relatively flat since 1989. The index fell one point in 1992, the first drop since 1987.
 The benchmark for the index was established in 1983, the first year that these questions on preventative health were asked by Louis Harris and Associates. From 100 in 1983, the index rose to 108 in 1985, reached 113 in 1988, rose gradually to 117 in 1991, and fell to 116 in 1992.
 Bad News; Good News
 The survey examines behaviors in important areas of preventative health care. Among its findings:
 Exercise. Only 33 percent of Americans now get strenuous exercise three times a week or more, down four percentage points from 1991.
 Weight. Sixty-six percent of Americans are overweight -- up from 63 percent in 1991, and 58 percent in 1983.
 Eating Patterns. Only 44 percent of Americans try hard to avoid cholesterol, and only 51 percent try hard to avoid fat. Both figures are down six percentage points from 1991. The proportion of Americans trying hard to eat enough fiber is down six points from 1983. The proportion trying hard to avoid too much sodium is down seven points from 1983.
 Smoking. Good news: Seventy-six percent of Americans are nonsmokers -- an all-time high.
 Drinking. Eighty-eight percent of Americans drink moderately or not at all; fully 40 percent say they never drink alcohol, an increase of six percentage points over 1983. Forty-eight percent say that on a day when they drink, they have no more than three drinks. That's down from 53 percent in 1983, and down slightly from last year.
 Drug Use. Ninety-five percent of Americans say they never use illegal drugs. Only 1 percent say that at present they use illegal drugs frequently.
 Stress. Thirty-three percent of Americans say they feel under great stress at least several days a week. And only 58 percent say they get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, down from 64 percent in 1983. Over the past decade, stress levels have risen constantly for those aged 18 to 49, and held steady for those 50 and over.
 Seatbelt Use and Driving Habits. Seatbelt use has risen dramatically. Seventy percent of Americans say they use seatbelts at all times when in the front seat of a car, up from 19 percent in 1983. Only 17 percent say they drive after drinking, down from 30 percent in 1983. But only 49 percent say they obey the speed limit all the time. This represents a seven-point drop from 1983.
 Checkups. Americans are eager to have their health evaluated in a professional setting. Eighty-four percent have at least annual blood pressure screenings. And although only 44 percent of Americans try hard to avoid cholesterol, 56 percent have their cholesterol level measured at least once a year.
 Women's Health. Women are conscientious about health screening. Eighty percent of women report having a Pap smear at least every other year, which is up from 75 percent in 1983. Forty-nine percent of women say they examine their breasts for signs of cancer at least once each month -- up 12 percent from 1983. But only 40 percent of women over 65 examine their breasts -- cause for concern, since the risk of breast cancer increases with age.
 Forty-four percent of women overall have a mammogram at least every other year. For women aged 40 and over -- the group for which mammography is recommended -- roughly 2/3 report having the test at least every other year, which means 1/3 of all American women in the same age group are not being screened as often as they should be.
 AIDS, Other Serious Illnesses. Two-thirds of Americans say they are taking steps to avoid getting AIDS, although only 1/5 say they worry that they are personally at risk of getting it. Overall, Americans seem ready to take steps to reduce their risk of getting a serious disease even if they don't feel they're personally at risk. While fewer than one-third worry about hypertension and heart disease, over half take steps to avoid them.
 Health Attitudes. Americans want to change their health behavior. 7 of 10 smokers say they want to quit smoking. More than 4 in 10 Americans say they want to learn more about good nutrition, and the same number say they would like to lose weight. Over half of those who say they do not exercise regularly want to start.
 Motivation to Change. Most of those surveyed (45 percent) say their strongest motivation to adopt healthier habits is "to be healthier while alive." One-third say that their strongest motivation is "to feel good about (themselves) today." Only 1/5 say their strongest motivation is "to live longer."
 Fifty-seven percent of Americans think that those with unhealthy habits should pay more for their health insurance. Fifty-one percent think the same people should pay a greater share of their medical bills.
 Sixty-six percent think higher insurance premiums would be at least somewhat effective in getting those with unhealthy habits to adopt better health habits. Thirty-three percent think higher premiums would be very effective.
 Thirty percent of smokers say they would be very likely to quit, and 27 percent say they would be somewhat likely to quit, if they were required to pay significantly more for health insurance.
 An overwhelming majority of Americans (more than 80 percent) think it is "very important" or "absolutely essential" that health insurance pay for preventative services for children, such as prenatal care, immunizations and boosters, and checkups; and for women's health screening, including Pap smears, breast exams and mammograms. Seventy- nine percent think that health insurance should pay for general physical examinations.
 Physicians, Hospitals Seen As Resources
 Overall, people who want to change their health habits say they are most interested in advice and counseling from their doctors, according to the survey. Hospitals are often a second choice, underscoring the key roles hospitals are playing in community health-promotion and education.
 "These survey results represent disturbing trends in the nation's health behaviors. Fortunately, there are a number of people who want to change their health habits for the better, and they are turning to credible sources of information, including their doctors and local hospitals," said James S. Todd, M.D., executive director of the American Medical Association. "We in the medical arena see ourselves as a catalyst of change and look forward to working within our communities to help people stay healthy."
 Programs Suggested for Better Health
 Regarding the kinds of health-promotion programs most desired by Americans, the survey results suggest efforts that focus on the quality of life rather than on longevity. Other effective steps, according to the survey, might include health-care financing that gives people an incentive to change behavior through a combination of higher premiums for unhealthy habits and more generous reimbursement of preventative services; and legal sanctions and effective enforcement measures against dangerous behavior in cases where this is appropriate.
 The 1992 Baxter Survey of American Health Habits was conducted during December 1992 by telephone interview with a total of 1,251 randomly selected adults. The survey includes a number of questions which Louis Harris and Associates has asked every year for the past 10 years (previously for Prevention magazine). Neither the phrasing of these questions nor the survey procedure has changed during that time, so that answers can be compared.
 Harris national public cross-sections are weighted to the Census Bureau's latest population parameters on sex, race, age and income. Louis Harris and Associates is responsible for final determination of the topics, question wordings, collection of the actual data, and analysis and interpretation of the report.
 Baxter is the world's leading manufacturer and marketer of health- care products, systems and services.
 -0- 3/11/93
 /CONTACT: Geoffrey D. Fenton of Baxter, 708-948-3436; or Melanie S. Engerski of Fleishmann Hillard, 314-982-1761, for Baxter/

CO: Baxter International ST: District of Columbia IN: HEA SU: ECO

WB -- NY041 -- 5099 03/11/93 12:32 EST
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Date:Mar 11, 1993

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