Health anxiety (HA) is associated with increased risk of disability, increased health care utilization and reduced quality of life. However, there is no consensus on which factors are important for the level of HA. The aim of this study was to explore the distribution of HA in a general adult population and to investigate whether demographic and social factors were associated with HA.
This study used cross-sectional data from the seventh Tromsø study. A total of 18 064 participants aged 40 years or older were included in the analysis. The six-item Whiteley Index (WI-6) with a 5-point Likert scale was used to measure HA. Sociodemographic factors included age, sex, education, household income, quality of friendship and participation in an organized activity.
HA showed an exponential distribution among the participants with a median score of 2 points out of 24 points. In total, 75% had a total score of 5 points or less, whereas 1% had a score >14 points. Education, household income, quality of friendship and participation in organized activity were significantly associated with HA. The variable quality of friendship demonstrated the strongest association with HA.
Our study showed an exponential distribution of HA in a general adult population. There was no evident cut-off point to distinguish participants with severe HA based on their WI-6 score, indicating the importance of analysing HA as a complex, continuous construct. HA demonstrated strong associations with quality of friendship and participation in an organized activity.