Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Determinants of self-rated health in old age: A population-based, cross-sectional study using the International Classification of Functioning

Solveig A Arnadottir12*, Elin D Gunnarsdottir3, Hans Stenlund4 and Lillemor Lundin-Olsson1

  • * Corresponding author: Solveig A Arnadottir

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Division of Physiotherapy, Umeå University, Sweden

2 School of Health Sciences, University of Akureyri, Iceland

3 School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Akureyri, Iceland

4 Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Division of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:670  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-670

Published: 25 August 2011



Self-rated health (SRH) is a widely used indicator of general health and multiple studies have supported the predictive validity of SRH in older populations concerning future health, functional decline, disability, and mortality. The aim of this study was to use the theoretical framework of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to create a better understanding of factors associated with SRH among community-dwelling older people in urban and rural areas.


The study design was population-based and cross-sectional. Participants were 185 Icelanders, randomly selected from a national registry, community-dwelling, 65-88 years old, 63% urban residents, and 52% men. Participants were asked: "In general, would you say your health is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?" Associations with SRH were analyzed with ordinal logistic regression. Explanatory variables represented aspects of body functions, activities, participation, environmental factors and personal factors components of the ICF.


Univariate analysis revealed that SRH was significantly associated with all analyzed ICF components through 16 out of 18 explanatory variables. Multivariate analysis, however, demonstrated that SRH had an independent association with five variables representing ICF body functions, activities, and personal factors components: The likelihood of a better SRH increased with advanced lower extremity capacity (adjusted odds ratio [adjOR] = 1.05, p < 0.001), upper extremity capacity (adjOR = 1.13, p = 0.040), household physical activity (adjOR = 1.01, p = 0.016), and older age (adjOR = 1.09, p = 0.006); but decreased with more depressive symptoms (adjOR = 0.79, p < 0.001).


The results highlight a collection of ICF body functions, activities and personal factors associated with higher SRH among community-dwelling older people. Some of these, such as physical capacity, depressive symptoms, and habitual physical activity are of particular interest due to their potential for change through public health interventions. The use of ICF conceptual framework and widely accepted standardized assessments should make these results comparable and relevant in an international context.