First of its kind study links life satisfaction with future health care use

May 17/2018

U of T researchers find those who are happier need less health care

Life dissatisfaction is linked to future high cost health care use, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.

“We have known for many years that factors outside the health-care system contribute to

Vivek Goel

Vivek Goel

health and health care utilization.  Our study suggests that these factors can reach even beyond traditional health behaviours and social determinants,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s Vice President of Research and Innovation.

“As we look to manage rising health care costs, we need to consider a broader range of social policies,” said Goel, who is also a Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Scientist Emeritus at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

In health care systems worldwide, high cost health care users (HCUs) disproportionately account for a majority of health care spending costs. HCUs are defined as those who ranked in the top five per cent according to total annual health care spending.

The study, “The relationship between life satisfaction and health care utilization: a longitudinal study,” was published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It examined more than 85,000 healthy Ontario adults whose self-reported life satisfaction was measured at baseline and then followed-up for six years to determine if they had enough health care use to put them in the highest category of health care costs.

After accounting for other factors associated with high health care use, like demographic factors, co-morbidity and socioeconomic factors, the researchers found that those studied with the lowest level of life satisfaction were three times more likely to be in the highest category of health care costs compared to those who were satisfied with their life.

“There’s increasing focus on the upstream factors and health behaviours that influence health,

Laura Rosella

Laura Rosella

and this study is the first to identify life satisfaction as a predictor of future high cost health care users,” said co-author Laura Rosella, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at DLSPH, adjunct scientist and site director at ICES U of T. She also holds a Canada Research Chair in Population Health Analytics.

Rosella and Goel found that the top five per cent of HCUs used $27,636 average annual health care costs, compared to $3,393 and $386 in the top six to 50 per cent and the bottom 50 per cent respectively.

These findings suggest that addressing broader factors that influence well-being and happiness – such as strong social networks and community engagement – will have a positive impact on the health system.

This research was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.