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Open Access Research article

The choice of self-rated health measures matter when predicting mortality: evidence from 10 years follow-up of the Australian longitudinal study of ageing

Kerry A Sargent-Cox1*, Kaarin J Anstey1 and Mary A Luszcz2

Author Affiliations

1 Ageing Research Unit, Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

2 School of Psychology and Flinders Centre for Ageing Studies, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

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BMC Geriatrics 2010, 10:18  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-10-18

Published: 20 April 2010

Abstract

Background

Self-rated health (SRH) measures with different wording and reference points are often used as equivalent health indicators in public health surveys estimating health outcomes such as healthy life expectancies and mortality for older adults. Whilst the robust relationship between SRH and mortality is well established, it is not known how comparable different SRH items are in their relationship to mortality over time. We used a dynamic evaluation model to investigate the sensitivity of time-varying SRH measures with different reference points to predict mortality in older adults over time.

Methods

We used seven waves of data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing (1992 to 2004; N = 1733, 52.6% males). Cox regression analysis was used to evaluate the relationship between three time-varying SRH measures (global, age-comparative and self-comparative reference point) with mortality in older adults (65+ years).

Results

After accounting for other mortality risk factors, poor global SRH ratings increased mortality risk by 2.83 times compared to excellent ratings. In contrast, the mortality relationship with age-comparative and self-comparative SRH was moderated by age, revealing that these comparative SRH measures did not independently predict mortality for adults over 75 years of age in adjusted models.

Conclusions

We found that a global measure of SRH not referenced to age or self is the best predictor of mortality, and is the most reliable measure of self-perceived health for longitudinal research and population health estimates of healthy life expectancy in older adults. Findings emphasize that the SRH measures are not equivalent measures of health status.