A girl sits on her father's shoulders

Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report reveals perceptions on drivers of good health

Thursday , 15 June 2023 by Sue Hamilton

What does good health look like to New Zealanders?

According to the Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report, many perceptions of good health by New Zealanders go beyond the physical, with good mental and emotional wellbeing strongly associated with being healthy.

The Healthy Futures Report found mental wellbeing (74%), emotional wellbeing (72%), feeling “good” (62%), and having low stress (61%) are all strongly associated with being healthy.

The report also showed most New Zealanders are happy with their mental wellbeing. However, there has been a slight dip in that rate since the first Healthy Futures Report in 2020.

The emotional wellbeing concerns weighing most heavily on New Zealanders are mental health (85%), suicide rates (81%), access to mental health services (75%), and the impact of social media on self-esteem (73%).

Southern Cross Health Insurance chief medical officer Dr Stephen Child says this isn’t surprising, as the data lines up with the World Happiness Report – where New Zealand came in 10th in 2022.

“Between the ongoing health and economic impacts of the pandemic, the continued conflict in other parts of the world like Ukraine, and the seemingly exponential rise in the cost of living, there’s plenty weighing on people’s minds in 2023,” he said.

The number of New Zealanders concerned about global events and issues was up 16 points to 66% in the latest Healthy Futures Report, while concerns about children being able to cope with the pressures of life were up 8 points to 63%. Not having enough money to support either themselves or their families was also a concern for 57% of people.

Dr Child says this sort of unease can impact people’s mental wellbeing, which in turn has ramifications for overall health.

“Our mental and emotional health is intrinsically tied to our physical health,” he said. “When we’re struggling with our mental or emotional wellbeing, it can manifest in physical ways, like disrupted sleep patterns, headaches, or digestive issues.

“Long-term chronic stress can also impair the immune system, so it’s important to keep working on our mental and emotional health, as well as our physical health.”

“While New Zealanders feel strongly that their emotional wellbeing is critical to overall health, they’re less confident about how to best maintain it. Rather than taking steps to actively manage their mental and emotional health, people are mostly only taking the necessary steps when something goes wrong with their mental health. We need to practise good mental health every day.”

Child says he could talk all day about the care we need to take to stay physically healthy, but equally important is the care we need to take to stay mentally well.

“For our bodies we can reduce risks by exercising, eating well, maintaining vaccinations, reducing intake of harmful substances and getting ahead of health issues - for example, keeping teeth in the best condition possible and checking for breast, prostate, uterine, bowel cancer and other illnesses.

“And for our minds, we all need to work at this. It doesn’t always come naturally. My go-tos are: understand what makes you content, develop tools like mindfulness to help overcome life’s ups and downs, and create connections and express compassion.”

The Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report is a biennial report that explores New Zealanders’ attitudes and behaviours in relation to their health and general wellbeing. Southern Cross, in conjunction with research partner Kantar, has now spoken to more than 5,000 New Zealanders to gain the insights found in its second report.