Overconfident and overextended – is our health in trouble?

Sun Life study shows half of all Canadians not making health a priority

TORONTO, Jan. 18 2011 – According to the Sun Life Canadian Health Index™, almost half of Canadians (45 per cent) don’t have health near the top of their priority list and in some cases, it’s not on the list at all. Overconfident or overextended may not be words we normally associate with our health, but that’s what analysis of the data revealed when it comes to Canadians concentrating on their well-being.

Overextended and overconfident – what does that mean?

Analysis identified patterns of behaviour or “health profiles” based on the respondents’ reported levels of health, their attitudes towards healthy living and related behaviours. Within any one profile, people are very much alike and each profile is very different from the other profiles identified.

A number of patterns emerged from the survey data which raise grave concerns from a health perspective. Respondents who fell in the “overextended” category were less likely than others to devote time to staying healthy, creating a health plan and sticking to it, or doing everything they could to maximize their health. When stressors are high, this group was more likely to say they would participate in unhealthy behaviours – eat fast food/take out, skip a meal, cut back on sleep or skip exercising.

On the flip side, the “overconfident” are average in their behaviours around health, but their perception of their health is above average. The concern is that even average behaviour isn’t optimal, since most Canadians (63 per cent) report three or more unhealthy behaviours as part of their lifestyle. Because the overconfident think they’re healthy, they aren’t being proactive to ensure they stay healthy.

“We’re seeing that for many Canadians, both personal and professional priorities are demanding a lot of attention and taking care of their health sometimes gets put on the backburner, or is not recognized at all,” says Kevin Dougherty, President, Sun Life Financial Canada. “However, it’s important that we find solutions to get our health priorities back on track. The risks are worrisome, since unhealthy behaviours are clearly linked to poor health outcomes, and that has an impact on all of us – as individuals and families, as employees or employers and as taxpayers.”

Profiles of health*

Based on responses to the Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM), the analysis shows that Canadians fall into five major health profiles that reflect their behaviours and perception when it comes to their personal health – overconfident, overextended, health achievers, resilient and inhibited.

Overconfident – 23 per cent

This group considers their health status to be high and currently is not concerned about their future health. However, their behaviours and motivation are not necessarily strong enough to support their optimistic outlook. The risk is that they aren’t laying the foundation for healthy habits needed to maintain their health as they age.

Overextended – 22 per cent

For many in this group, engaging in healthy behaviours is at the bottom of a long list of priorities, including the demands of a career and family obligations. Lack of knowledge, time and money were cited as major barriers to healthier habits.

Health achievers – 22 per cent

Members of this group are fully engaged in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They take full responsibility for their own health and take part in the right behaviours to support it. It’s important to note that this group says they don’t “go it alone” – they report having support systems in place to help them achieve their healthy lifestyle.

Resilient – 18 per cent

Members of this group value a healthy lifestyle and show motivation to engage in healthy behaviours. However, pre-existing health conditions make it difficult to lead the healthy lifestyle they desire. Even though they seem to want to do the right things, they are challenged to do so because of existing health conditions.

Inhibited – 16 per cent

This group’s reported behaviour indicates that they are only marginally less healthy than average, however their perception of their own health is much poorer. They feel responsibility for their health lies not just with themselves but also with external supports. This group would like support, but they don’t always reach out to ask for help.

“It’s obvious that we want more Canadians to fall into the health achievers group,” says Dougherty. “What’s not as obvious is finding the right messages and support, both personal and through workplace programs, to encourage healthy behaviours for Canadians.”

What does this mean to Canadians?

It’s important to understand the impact behaviour has on your health and the steps you can take to be successful in including healthy behaviours in your life:

  • First, understand your personal barriers to a healthy lifestyle – is it time, motivation, money or is it that you need to take a proactive look at your health and potential risks?
  • Determine the manageable steps you can take to remove those barriers.
  • Then create a realistic, personalized health plan. Start with a few small changes and make them habits.
  • Support is key. Look to family and friends to include them in your plans and allow them to contribute to your success. At work, check to see if workplace wellness programs are available.

What does this mean to employers?

With the biggest barriers for many Canadians being time, money and motivation, employers are ideally positioned to help remove these barriers. Workplace health solutions can provide employees with targeted health messages, more convenient access, a supportive environment or employer subsidized programs in order to help change their behaviour.

As well, for employers who know the “profile” of their overall workforce, it could impact what they offer or how they offer health and wellness programs. The benefits of these programs are felt by employees and employers alike. Employers with highly effective workplace wellness programs have performed more than 55 per cent better than their industry peers, achieved higher average revenue per employee and seen less absence, disability, total turnover and lower annual medical costs.(+)

Health profiles by region

  • Atlantic Canada has the lowest percentage of residents (19 per cent) in the overconfident segment.
  • In the Prairies, the overextended segment forms a larger portion of the population (26 per cent) than it does in other regions.
  • Ontario is tied with Quebec and B.C. as having the highest number of residents in the overconfident segment (23 per cent).
  • Quebec has the lowest percentage of people in the overextended segment (15 per cent).
  • The Atlantic provinces are tied with B.C. (25 per cent) as having a notably higher number of health achievers compared to the rest of Canada.

For more information:

Measuring Canadians’ attitudes, perceptions and behaviours about their health

The 2010 Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM) measures the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours of Canadians relating to their personal health. This first of what will be a series of studies yielded an overall index score of 68.5 on a scale of 0 to 100. A person who scored high on the overall Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM) also scored high on each of the individual attitudinal, behavioural and perceived health components.

The overall index is a blend of scores in three sub-indices: Perceived Health Index (score = 70.9), Attitudinal Health Index (score = 67) and Behaviour Health Index (score = 67.7).

For more information about the study, visit www.sunlife.ca/CanadianHealthIndex1.


These are just some of the findings of an Ipsos Reid/Sun Life Financial poll conducted from October 12 to 26, 2010. For this survey, a sample of 3,989 Canadians from 18 to 80 years of age from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate to within +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult Canadian population been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. These data were weighted to ensure the sample’s regional and age/sex composition reflects that of the actual Canadian population according to the 2006 Census data. The Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM) is composed of a series of sub-indices composing attitudinal, behavioural and perceived measures, each benchmarked to 100.

About Sun Life Financial

Sun Life Financial is a leading international financial services organization providing a diverse range of protection and wealth accumulation products and services to individuals and corporate customers. Chartered in 1865, Sun Life Financial and its partners today have operations in key markets worldwide, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, India, China and Bermuda. As of September 30, 2010, the Sun Life Financial group of companies had total assets under management of CDN$455 billion. For more information please visit www.sunlife.com.

Sun Life Financial Inc. trades on the Toronto (TSX), New York (NYSE) and Philippine (PSE) stock exchanges under the ticker symbol SLF.