Myths and Misconceptions About Chronic Illness

Hello Dazzle! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I wanted to address some of the myths that I frequently hear regarding people who have chronic illnesses.

Chronic Illness is a Problem for the Elderly

“Approximately 27% of children in the United States have a chronic condition and 1 in 15 have [multiple chronic conditions].” [1] About 52% of working age (18-64) adults have at least 1 chronic illness and about 27% have multiple chronic illnesses. [2] “Older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Nearly 95% percent have at least one chronic condition, and nearly 80% of have two or more.” [3]

These numbers demonstrate that chronic illness is much more common in the Geriatric (older than 65) population, but it is far from being exclusive to that age bracket. When people see these numbers they are often mislead, because they don’t look at all the data which really further illuminates things. “80% of all adults [are] younger than 65” [4] which means that it is pretty significant that more then half this group has a chronic illness.

People with Chronic Illness Don’t Want to Work

Well, let’s go back to the data. About 52% of working age (18-64) adults have at least 1 chronic illness and about 27% have multiple chronic illnesses. [2] About 26% of individuals of the working age are diagnosed with a disease that is considered to cause disability. [5] Despite all of that, the unemployment rate is only 3.6% [6]. But that’s looking at everyone. If you want to be more specific, only 7.6% of those with a disability are not working [7]. Which means that most of the people who have a chronic illness or disability are working. So, just like everyone else those with chronic illness and disability are working whether they want to or not.

Chronic Illness Effects Men more the Women

The reverse is true. Women are more likely to have a chronic illness then men. In fact, 38 percent of American women have at least one chronic health condition, compared to 30 percent of men. Of the 10 leading causes of death for women, six are chronic diseases. [7] While only half of the leading causes of death for men are chronic diseases [8]. This means that women die from chronic illnesses 44.7% [7] of the time as compared to men who die from chronic disease 41.6% of the time. [8] Granted this isn’t a huge difference in the gender representation, but it does have a slightly higher representation and risk for females.

Chronic Illness is the Result of Life Style Choices

This is too broad of a statement to be completely true. “Among U.S. adults, more than 90 percent of type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of CAD, 70 percent of stroke, and 70 percent of colon cancer are potentially preventable by a combination of nonsmoking, avoidance of overweight, moderate physical activity, healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption.” [9] However, that’s far from being all of the chronic illnesses. Genetic illnesses are not preventable in that once the person is born they have the DNA that they have and at this point we can’t change that. There are some diseases that are not classified as genetic that have a strong connection to genetics such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and macular degeneration, which each have a genetic contribution of approximately 40 to 50 per cent. [10]

That all being said, what the science tells us is that our environmental exposures have more impact on our health then our genetics. When looking at diseases over all, genetics have less than 5% impact on your health. [10] This information is very powerful and leads many to the false conclusion that chronic illness is the result of life style choices. Because in order for it to be a choice, the person in question must have the ability to do something other then what is causing disease.

Individual responsibility, while important, only has full effect where people have equal access to healthy choices. If a person is too poor to afford health care, they are not choosing to not get health care. That is something being imposed upon them. Those who live in poor communities are more likely to develop a chronic condition then those who live in affluent community. Poor health in poor communities has a 15% higher probability then in an affluent community. [11] [12] This means that while environment plays a major role in our health, choice isn’t as easy to parse out.

“A person’s risk of developing a chronic disease is determined by a multitude of factors, including an individual’s education, income, lifestyle, family history, and even the presence of other chronic conditions.” [13] While most of these factors are considered environmental, most of them are not factors that are under an individual’s complete control. The education a person receives depends largely on how wealthy their family is. Their lifestyle will also be greatly impacted by your wealth. It is difficult to make the choice to exercise regularly when you need to work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet.

The impact of race cannot be ignored here either. The lack of representation in research, equitable care and differences in economic states all play into the fact that “racial/ethnic minorities are 1.5 to 2.0 times more likely than whites to have most of the major chronic diseases.” [14] While these are certainly environmental factors that have impacted their health outcomes, it cannot be said that a person chooses which race they are born.

It is absolutely true that life style and environmental exposures have a huge impact on our health outcomes. What is not true is that people can freely and easily make choices regarding their life styles and environmental exposures. Meaning that this too is a myth.

Well, There are many other myths about chronic illness, but that’s about all the time I have for today! What are some of the myths and misconceptions that you’ve heard? Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

Additional Reading and References

  1. Multiple Chronic Conditions Among Outpatient Pediatric Patients, Southeastern Michigan, 2008–2013
  2. Prevalence of Multiple Chronic Conditions Among US Adults, 2018
  3. Get the Facts on Healthy Aging
  4. Differences Between Younger and Older US Adults With Multiple Chronic Conditions
  5. Disability Impacts All of Us
  7. Leading Causes of Death – Females – All races and origins – United States, 2018
  8. Leading Causes of Death – Males – All races and origins – United States, 2018
  9. Chapter 44 Prevention of Chronic Disease by Means of Diet and Lifestyle Changes
  10. Your DNA is not your destiny — or a good predictor of your health
  11. Chronic Disease Disparities by County Economic Status and Metropolitan Classification, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2013
  12. Americans in Poverty at Greater Risk for Chronic Health Problems
  13. Background: Understanding the Connections Between Chronic Disease and Individual-Level Risk Factors
  14. Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Chronic Diseases of Youths and Access to Health Care in the United States

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.