People in the EMEA region (France, Germany, South Africa and UK) consider their overall health to be worse than those in other countries including China, India, and the US. This is one of the key findings in the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on Trust and Health. The study shows an even more depressing picture for those with lower incomes. In Germany, fewer than one in four (22%) on low income would assess their health as “very good or better”. In France and the UK that figure is 29%, but surprisingly the figure is much higher in South Africa at 49%.

When we asked people about which societal factors are negatively impacting their health, however, there was complete agreement. Inflation topped the list in every one of our four EMEA countries, from a high of 88% in South Africa to the lowest of the four countries, Germany at 68%. The second-most cited factor was the impact of pandemic restrictions, ranging from 84% in South Africa to 67% in France and Germany.

The current economic situation is, of course, impacting many areas of people’s lives in EMEA. So that may be one reason why inflation affects health so strongly. But another reason could be that people’s definition of health is now much broader and so the factors that influence their health are more diverse. When people think about being “healthy”, mental health is considered more important than physical health in our almost all of our EMEA markets. Two other dimensions are also seen as part of our overall wellbeing: social health (which includes feeling cared for, having a person to speak freely to, and not suffering discrimination) and community liveability (living in a clean, safe, and peaceful community, and having a healthy planet).

Another factor which may influence how people think about their own health, is how much they know about it. Once again, our research showed dramatic differences. Globally, the data shows that since the beginning of the pandemic, 41% of respondents have been educating themselves more about health issues and 39% have been verifying more whether the health information they see is true. But in France these numbers fall to 20% and 24%; in Germany to 28% and 19%, and in the UK to 29% and 23% respectively. By contrast, in South Africa 63% are educating themselves more about health issues and 61% are validating health information.

Where people can find trusted health information, is another key strand of this Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report. Once again there are some interesting variances. Globally the study found a big increase (11 points) in trust in “my friends and family” to tell the truth about health issues and about how to best protect the health of the public. But while in Germany, friends and family is the second most trusted group (81%) behind only “my doctor” (83%), in the UK friends and family are less trusted than nurses, pharmacists, “my doctor”, and tied with health experts/scientists.

When making well-informed decisions can literally be a matter of life and death, ensuring people are as educated as possible about their health is vitally important. “Being healthy” now means many different things and the factors that influence health are manifold. So, no matter where we live, knowing how to access and validate health information from multiple sources is increasingly becoming an important life-hack.