With the sobering headlines that “35 is the new 40” for Americans and a national erosion in optimism, Philips has published its 2010 Index on America’s Health and Well-being.

The skin-deep, top-line finding is that 74% of Americans age 18-65 say their health is good or very good; however, there’s a disconnect and discontent that runs below this otherwise happy data point.

I spent some time talking with Katy Hartley, Director of the Philips Center for Health and Well-being, about the study. She identified four key findings:

1. People feel older, younger. That’s the “35 is the new 40” headline. When Americans hit their 35th birthday, the percent who say they’re stressed (a lot) doubles from 12% of the age cohort to 24%; and, the percent visiting physicians annually increases by 40% from the 25-34 year old segment. These may be people with a mortgage, aging parents and growing kids — the so-called Sandwich Generation. Reaching 35 is the coming-of-age point for this cohort, which in this recession is feeling really stretched economically and time-wise. The generation under 35, according to the data, isn’t as stressed about the economy, presumably, Katy hypothesizes, because that generation hasn’t ever expected a single job-for-life. Instead of reaching that level of, say, maturity (emotional sobriety? pessimism?) at 40, Katy said, “People have lost 5 years of optimism.” Hence, 35, the new 40.

2. For 3 in 4 Americans, it’s the economy that’s keeping them up at night. Literally. In Philips’ 2004 survey on health and well-being, the economy wasn’t #1 on the list of consumers’ worries. Today, it’s far and away the top concern of American adults under 65. But intriguingly, it’s not more money on the job people are seeking in front of all other priorities: it’s more time to spend with friends and family. Thus, time is the new currency, Philips says.

3. We think we weigh less than we do. In Philips’ survey, 6 in 10 adults don’t feel they’re overweight. However, the CDC tells us that 7 in 10 really are overweight in America. Is there a new norm, Katy asks, regarding how Americans perceive ‘svelteness?’ Or is this simply denial? In either case, 66% of Americans say they wish they exercised more, so again, underneath the Pollyanna optimism there’s some practicality.

4. The Internet is second after the doctor as the American’s #1 source for health information. In the 2004 survey, the #2 source was friends and family.

Given these findings, lest you decide to join the one in 10 Americans already on mood-altering drugs identified in the survey (and 1 in 4 among 55-64 year old’s), let’s visit some of the more hopeful survey results:

  • Americans are owning up to their personal responsibility for their own care. 60% of Americans overall feel their state of health is up to their own control, with a high of 72% of 18-24 year olds feeling that way. But even most of the oldest cohort of Americans believes that “for the most part, my health is up to me.”
  • Americans tend to be proactive about their health, with 7 in 10 getting regular check-ups with doctors annually, according to the study. Once an American hits 35, there’s a big jump in visits to doctors, the study found.
  • Americans are keen on technology that can impact health and well-being. 60% say they’d be interested in a monitor to wear for emergencies, 54% would be interested in a device to help plan healthy meals, and 50% would like a device that counts calories and tracks activities throughout the day.

For the survey, Philips interviewed 1,503 American adults 18-65 years of age via telephone (landline and cellular) between late November into December 2009.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Philips’ survey adds to our understanding about health engagement and Americans’ perceptions of their own personal health and well-being. What stands out is that friends and family — one’s social network — continue to bolster an individual’s sense of well-being. Regular readers of Health Populi know that those networks can be valuable both in-person (offline) and online, via social networks for fun and health reasons.

Digging deeper, Katy and I discussed gender differences between men and women. In general, women’s perceptions of their personal health status and well-being on most categories tend to be lower than men’s. Women are more worried about the economy, they’re more sleepless at night, and they’re more stressed-out than men.

But interestingly, Philips has also found that women are becoming, as Katy coins it, “gadget-y.” Most women seem to like health technology, such as monitors for emergency and 24×7 monitoring of lifestyle behaviors (think: iPhone apps). Women are also more interested in having these technologies personalized to them: 70% of women seek personalization in health techs vs. 56% of men.

Philips has given us some intriguing food for thought, as well as some useful insights they can use in developing products and services to meet the growing demands of health citizens the world over who see themselves increasingly responsible for managing their health.