Don't judge a body by its cover

16 November 2016
  • Brits take 500-year-old approach to health
  • Over half of Brits judge their body’s health just by looking in the mirror
  • Brits put up with symptoms for over five weeks before visiting a doctor
  • People check their credit score more often that their health 
man looking at his smart phone
New research from Bupa has exposed a misguided approach to monitoring health, with people assuming they are healthy as long as they look alright. 

Over half (51%) of the British population believe all is well on the inside if everything looks okay on the outside, and would only change their lifestyle if they had a warning from a doctor.[1] 

The report, commissioned by Bupa’s Health Clinics to understand attitudes to maintaining wellbeing, highlighted a strong focus on how we look over how we feel. A third of people would only change their health habits if they could look better as a result and nearly a quarter (23.2%) would do it if they started to see the effects of ageing. This is despite the fact that 36% of people admit to unhealthy sleep patterns and 40% say they’re stressed. 

Today the phrase ‘picture of health’ is used when someone looks good. It actually dated back to a medical term used in the 16th century when medicine was in its infancy, and visual clues were all that diagnosticians could work from. 

Philip Luce, Bupa UK’s Health and Dental Clinics Director said: “This research shows that despite the fantastic advances we’ve made in medicine, Brits still take an age-old approach to their health. In fact, people are more likely to visit a doctor if they can see something unusual or different about their body[2] than if they’ve been feeling unwell for a few days.” 

The research also revealed that Brits check their credit score, test the oil level in their car and even defrag or virus check their computer more frequently than going to the doctor or having a health check. 

Brits will also do a clear out of their wardrobe more often than having a general check up, showing that appearance is higher on the list of priorities than good health and wellbeing. 

Philip Luce continues: “Our research shows that ‘soldiering on’ is a common attitude which isn’t surprising when we’re all so busy. I’d encourage people to check in on how they’re feeling more often, whether that’s a health check or a quick overview from day to day. Knowing more about your own health means you can make small adjustments that will help prevent issues further down the line.” 

The report also found that over a quarter of people don’t know what they weigh, and 74% don’t know their BMI. Nearly 10% of the population don’t know any of the following about their own bodies:  height, weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, BMI, resting heart rate, blood sugar or lung capacity.  

Bupa offers health assessments that give the body a full MOT, looking at a variety of factors including fitness, weight, musculoskeletal, blood sugar, liver function and more. Prices start at £176 – less than 50p a day (spread across the year) – /health/health-assessments


  •  21% of people wouldn’t go to the doctor at all with a nagging symptom
  • 35-44 years olds wait the least amount of time at just under five weeks
  • 25–34 years olds wait the longest at just under six weeks
  • People in Sheffield wait eight weeks before they take action – by far the longest in the country
  • In contrast, those in Birmingham are the quickest, getting to the doctor in four weeks 
  • 11% believe that things usually right themselves in the end, and therefore won’t get a check-up
  • 26 of people deal with niggling symptoms when they start interfering with life as normal.
  • Only a tenth (9.6%) of people stop to evaluate how they’re feeling to avoid being run down 

[1] 50.8% of respondents 

[2] 33.8% of respondents

Notes to editor

  • With more than 50 Bupa health centres across the UK, we offer a range of trusted health services close to where people live and work.
  • Bupa clinics are open to everyone, whether you have Bupa insurance or not.
  • Our health and dental clinics offer a range of everyday health services from GP and physiotherapy appointments and health assessments to general, cosmetic and specialist dentistry.
  • Bupa’s range of six health assessments give people a snapshot of their health and help them make health and lifestyle changes.
  • Our health assessments are designed to make sure people engage with their health before the assessment, and have continued support to meet their goals afterwards.
  • Your Health Assessor will also help you set relevant goals, give you access to the Bupa Boost app to keep you on track and your advisor will call you in the months following to coach and help you. You'll also have 24/7 access to a GP for a whole year for yourself and family who live with you.
  • Bupa clinics are on the high street across the country and offer:
    • Health assessments 
    • Health services like GP appointments 
    • Dental appointments including orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry 
    • Dermatology 
    • Physiotherapy 
    • Osteopathy 
    • Podiatry

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

We have 15.5 million health insurance customers, provide healthcare to around 14.5 million people in our clinics and hospitals, and look after over 23,300 aged care residents.

We employ over 78,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the USA, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland, and many more through our associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

Health insurance is around 70% of our business. In a number of countries, we also run clinics, dental centres, hospitals and care homes and villages.

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