S. Koreans weighed down by excessive health concerns: report

January 22, 2016
(Source: 2015 OECD health data)

(Source: 2015 OECD health data)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Koreans feel they are suffering from bad health despite having one of the longest life expectancies in the world, a report by a state-run think tank showed Friday.

According to the report by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), only 35.1 percent of South Koreans over 15 said they are in good health. This is well below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 69.2 percent, and significantly lower than the 80-90 percent levels found in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

The think tank’s report, based on information collected from the OECD’s Health Data, showed only Japan had a reading of below 40 percent among the world’s developed market economies with high income.

Despite what people perceive, the life expectancy for a South Korean stood at 81.8 years, higher than the 80.5 years for the OECD.

(Source: 2015 OECD health data)

(Source: 2015 OECD health data)

“The difference in perception and life expectancy derives from social and cultural views on health,” KIHASA said. “Different views on weight played a role.”

The institute said that South Koreans generally tended to equate obesity with bad health and that, compared to other OECD members, more often believed they were overweight. It also said women were more likely than men to think they are fat.

Other fallouts from the subjective perception of ill health can be found in the average days a South Korean spends in a hospital compared to people living in other countries.

On average, a South Korean spent 16.5 days in the hospital, vis-a-vis 8.3 days for the OECD, although part of the reason is due to the longer time that dementia patients spend in convalescent hospitals.

The report also showed that from 2004 to 2013, the number of hospital beds jumped two-fold, which is a much sharper increase compared to the 10 percent growth tallied for the OECD as a whole.

While there has been an increase in the size of medical facilities, Asia’s fourth largest economy had the third lowest number of doctors per 1,000 people. Within the OECD, the average stood at 3.3 per 1,000, while corresponding numbers for South Korea stood at 2.2.

This has led to a much greater number of patients being checked by local doctors, which can affect the quality of care given, it said. On average, a South Korean doctor checked 6,487 patients as of 2011, 2.7 times larger than the average of the OECD.