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Ciência & Saúde Coletiva

Print version ISSN 1413-8123On-line version ISSN 1678-4561

Ciênc. saúde coletiva vol.24 no.1 Rio de Janeiro Jan. 2019 


Self-perceived health among adult and elderly users of Primary Health Care

Ivana Loraine Lindemann1 

Natasha Rodrigues Reis2 

Gicele Costa Mintem2 

Raúl Andrés Mendoza-Sassi3 

1Coordenação Acadêmica, Universidade Federal da Fronteira Sul. R. Capitão Araújo 20, Centro. 99010-200 Passo Fundo RS Brasil.

2Universidade Federal de Pelotas. Pelotas RS Brasil

3Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande. Rio Grande RS Brasil


A cross-sectional study was conducted with 1,246 adults and senior men and women in Pelotas (RS), Brasil to evaluate the negative self-perception of health among Primary Health Care users. The prevalence of negative self-perception of health was reported by 41.6% of respondents. Women, those who were unemployed, who reported a diagnosis of three or more chronic noncommunicable diseases, who were food insecure and did not engage in physical activity reported a higher proportion of negative self-perceived health. Users with at least higher education level and those whose households had four or more residents were less predisposed to the outcome. The high prevalence of negative self-perceived health in this population, as well as the associations found, indicate the need for a better understanding of the influence of these factors on the search for care and, consequently, on adherence to treatment.

Key words Self-perception; Health status; Primary Health Care


Com o objetivo de avaliar a autopercepção negativa da saúde entre usuários da atenção básica de saúde, foi realizado um estudo transversal com 1246 adultos e idosos, de ambos os sexos, em Pelotas, RS. A prevalência da autopercepção negativa da saúde foi referida por 41,6% dos entrevistados. As mulheres, aqueles que não estavam trabalhando, que referiram diagnóstico de três ou mais doenças crônicas não transmissíveis, que estavam em insegurança alimentar e não praticavam atividade física relataram em maior proporção, a autopercepção negativa da saúde. Enquanto que os usuários com no mínimo o ensino superior e aqueles cujos domicílios tinham quatro ou mais moradores foram menos predispostos ao desfecho. A elevada prevalência de autopercepção negativa da saúde nessa população, bem como as associações encontradas, indicam a necessidade de maior entendimento sobre a influência desses fatores na procura pelo atendimento e, consequentemente, na adesão ao tratamento.

Palavras-chave Autopercepção; Condições de saúde; Atenção primária à saúde


The health-disease process involves objective and subjective aspects that can be analyzed by health services from different perspectives. According to Andersen's Behavioral Model, the use of services would be associated with predisposing, training and health needs factors. The predisposing factors are those related to the susceptibility of individuals, according to their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics; training related to access to these services; and, the most proximal determinant of use is the individual health status1,2.

The health status of the individual, in turn, can be described objectively and dichotomically as the absence or presence of disease and, subjectively, by self-perceived health. Self-perception has been used as a valid indicator of the quality of life, of morbidity and diminished functionality, analyzing physical, cognitive and emotional aspects and, mainly, as a good predictor of mortality.

The prevalence of negative self-perception of health in the general population of adults and the elderly has been around 20% both in studies conducted in Brazil and other countries, and is generally higher in women, people with more advanced age, with lower income and schooling, higher morbidity and inadequate lifestyle310.

Although self-perceived health is a determinant of the use of services, few studies have evaluated it in the user population. In two studies conducted in Brazil, the prevalence found was similar to that of the general population, but an inconsistency with the associated factors was found, and no difference was identified mainly concerning gender, age and income11,12. Therefore, this study aimed to evaluate the negative self-perception of health and associated factors in PHC users in the city of Pelotas (RS), Brazil, to better elucidate the issue in such a population group.


This is a cross-sectional study with data from a survey conducted from May to October 2013, with individuals of both genders, aged 20 years or older and users of the PHC urban network of Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, with the aim of evaluating the promotion of healthy eating.

In 2010, the city's health network consisted of 51 primary healthcare facilities, one municipal emergency care, five first-aid rooms, one specialties center, seven psychosocial care centers, five general hospitals and one psychiatric hospital, and approximately 600 private practices. In a population-based study carried out with adults and the elderly, regarding the use of health services, the city's characteristics are similar to other Brazilian cities of the same size13.

The sample size was calculated in the Epi Info 6.04 Program (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA), taking into account different risk factors, relative risk of 2.0, 95% confidence level, 80% power, non-exposed/exposed ratio of up to 1:9 and an expected prevalence of the outcome in non-exposed individuals of at least 13%, which indicated the need for 936 participants. Adding 10% to possible losses and 25% to confounding factors, the total required was set at 1,264 subjects.

The 36 PHC facilities (UBS) of the urban area were included, with double-stage sampling. Initially, a proportional random-type sampling was used to define the number of users to be interviewed in each UBS, using as a criterion of proportionality the mean number of procedures of the month before the onset the data collection. The next stage considered convenience sampling, and in each UBS, users who waited for service until the stipulated “n” was completed were included consecutively. Pregnant women and people physical or mental disabilities were excluded, and data were obtained through a standardized and tested questionnaire, applied by trained interviewers, in the waiting room of the UBS, in the morning and afternoon shifts, before attendance. Any refusal would trigger two further attempts by the other interviewer of the pair and the field supervisor, and there was no replacement of losses.

In this analysis, the negative self-perception of health, generated from the fair and inadequate responses to the question “How do you consider your state of health?” was considered as a dependent variable. The association with four levels of independent variables was tested. In the first one, demographic and socioeconomic variables were considered: gender, age (in full years, 20-59/60 and over), self-reported skin color (white/non-white), presence of spouse (yes/no), quintiles of household income per capita, schooling (primary school/secondary school/higher education and over), occupation (work/not working) and number of residents in the household (1-3/4 or more). The second included the health status: number of self-reported chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (reference to the medical diagnosis of obesity/diabetes mellitus/hypertension/dyslipidemia/heart disease, categorized in none/1-2/3 or more), nutritional status (assessed from self-reported weight and height and classified as eutrophic/overweight as per Body Mass Index14 and food insecurity (yes/no, assessed from the short assessment scale15). The third group included access to health information, measured by reference to the receipt of health information (yes/no), through friends, family, health professionals, the Internet or other means of communication, and the healthcare model (traditional/family health). Finally, the last set included life habits: follow-up of the Ten Steps of Healthy Eating16 (none/1/2/3/4 and over), physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day, evaluated without using a specific questionnaire and without considering type and intensity (yes/no), tobacco use (yes/no), without considering type, quantity, frequency or former smokers, and consumption of alcoholic beverages (yes/no), without considering type, quantity and frequency.

Statistical analyses were performed in Stata version 12.0 (Stata Corp., College Station, USA), starting with the description of the sample and the calculation of the prevalence of the dependent variable and its 95% confidence interval (95% CI). The association of the independent variables with the negative self-perception of health was tested by the bivariate analysis (crude prevalence ratios and their CIs) and, later, through backward stepwise multivariate analysis, with Poisson regression, cluster-robust variance (adjusted prevalence ratios and their CIs). We adopted a pre-established hierarchical model, with the variables of each level entering the model and those with p>0.20 were withdrawn one by one, inserting those of the lower level, and so forth, until the last level. The linear trend (Wald test) was tested in the ordered polytomous categorical variables, and heterogeneity was tested in the non-ordered ones. All statistical analyses adopted a p-value of p<0.05 of a two-tailed test.

The Health Research Ethics Committee of the Federal University of Rio Grande (CEPAS/FURG) approved the research protocol CAAE 09931212.3.0000.5324, and all participants agreed by signing an Informed Consent Form.


Of the 1,264 service users eligible for the study, 1,246 agreed to participate, resulting in 1.4% losses and refusals. The sample consisted mainly of adults (77.8%), women (83.7%), individuals who self-referred as white (63.3%) and with spouse (60.2%). Regarding the monthly household income, individuals belonging to extreme quintiles had an average income of R$ 142.9 (±71.7) and R$ 1,034.8 (±304.8). As for schooling, having completed primary school was more frequent among the participants (67%). About 70% were not working and more than half of the sample reported having at home up to three residents (56%) (Table 1).

Table 1 Characterization of a sample of adults and elderly Primary Care users. Pelotas (RS), Brazil, 2013. (n = 1,246). 

Variables n %
Male 203 16,3
Female 1,043 83.7
Age in full years
20-59 969 77.8
60 and over 277 22.2
Self-reported skin color (n = 1.244)
White 787 63.3
Non-white 457 36.7
Presence of spouse
No 496 39.8
Yes 750 60.2
Quintiles of monthly household income per capita Mean SD
1st 142.95 71.69
2nd 289.53 37.90
3rd 416.78 51.78
4th 629.13 67.08
5th 1,034.87 304.83
Primary school 832 66.8
Secondary school 276 22.1
Higher education and over 138 11.1
Working 396 31.8
Not working 850 68.2
Number of people living in the household
1-3 692 55.5
4 and over 554 44.5
Number of self-reported NCDs
None 576 46.2
1-2 486 39.0
3 and over 184 14.8
Nutritional status (n = 1.113)
Eutrophy 434 39.0
Overweight 679 61.0
Food insecurity (n = 982)
No 845 86.0
Yes 137 14.0
Access to health information
Yes 780 62.6
No 466 37.4
Healthcare model
Family health 669 53.7
Traditional 577 46.3
Follow-up of the Ten Steps of Healthy Eating
None 47 3.8
1 255 20.5
2 391 31.4
3 337 27.0
4 and over 216 17.3
Physical activity
Yes 318 25.5
No 928 74.5
Tobacco use
No 954 76.6
Yes 292 23.4
Alcoholic beverage consumption
No 1,061 85.2
Yes 185 14.8

NCDs: Noncommunicable diseases.

Regarding health-related aspects, although the lack of NCDs in 46% of the sample was evident, almost 40% of them self-reported having up to two diseases, and approximately 15% three or more chronic diseases. The most observed nutritional status was overweight (61%), and food insecurity was identified in 14% of the sample. More than 60% reported having access to health information. The Family Health Strategy served more than half of the users. When asked about Follow-up of the Ten Steps of Healthy Eating, more than 50% reported as maximum adherence up to two of them, and no participant reported adherence to all steps. Participants reported approximately 75% of physical inactivity, similar to the absence of tobacco use, and 85% of them did not consume alcoholic beverages (Table 1). The study outcome, namely, negative self-perception of health, was identified in 41.6% (95% CI, 38.8-44.3) of the individuals.

In the hierarchical analysis, according to the theoretical model, in the first level, the following variables were associated with the outcome after adjustment: gender, schooling, occupation and number of dwellers in the household. There was a higher prevalence of negative self-perception of health for the female gender, PR=1.25 (95% CI 1.05-1.50) and those who were unemployed at the time of the interview PR=1.37 (95% CI, 1.14-1.65). The lowest prevalence of the outcome was found in the respondents with higher education PR=0.52 (95% CI, 0.35-0.78) and who reported four or more people residing in the household PR=0.84 (95% CI, 0.76-0.92). In the second level, the number of self-reported NCDs and food insecurity remained associated with the outcome, with a higher prevalence of negative self-perception in those with a higher number of chronic and food-insecure diseases PR=2.40 (95% CI, 2.08-2.76) and PR=1.33 (95% CI, 1.17-1.51), respectively. The variables of access to health information and care model included in the third hierarchical level were not shown to be associated with the outcome (Table 2). At the last level, consisting of variables on life habits, only physical activity was associated with the outcome, showing a higher prevalence of negative self-perception for the physically inactive individuals PR=1.29 (95% CI, 1.10-1.51) (Table 2).

Table 2 Crude and adjusted analysis of factors associated with negative self-perception of health referred to by the adult and elderly users of Primary Health Care. Pelotas (RS), Brazil, 2013. (n = 1,246). 

Variables Crude PR (CI95) p Adjusted PR (CI95) p
1st level: demographic and socioeconomic variables *
Gender 0.024a 0.013a
Male 1.00 1.00
Female 1.25 (1.03-1.51) 1.25 (1.05-1.50)
Age in full years 0.006a 0.448a
20-59 1.00 1.00
60 and over 1.25 (1.07-1.46) 1.07 (0.90-1.26)
Self-reported skin color 0.992a 0.860a
White 1.00 1.00
Non-white 1.00 (0.89-1.13) 1.01 (0.90-1.14)
Presence of spouse 0.805a 0.721a
No 1.00 1.00
Yes 0.98 (0.82-1.17) 1.03 (0.86-1.24)
Quintiles of monthly household income per capita 0,146b 0,443b
1.00 1.00
0.86 (0.67-1.09) 0.85 (0.68-1.06)
0.85 (0.70-1.03) 0.90 (0.76-1.08)
0.85 (0.70-1.04) 0.87 (0.71-1.06)
0.79 (0.67-0.95) 0.87 (0.73-1.04)
Schooling 0.001c 0.001c
Primary school 1.00 1.00
Secondary school 0.71 (0.61-0.83) 0.74 (0.63-0.87)
Higher education and over 0.49 (0.33-0.72) 0.52 (0.35-0.78)
Occupation 0.001a 0.001a
Working 1.00 1.00
Not working 1.50 (1.26-1.78) 1.37 (1.14-1.65)
Number of people living in the household 0.001a 0.001a
1-3 1,00 1,00
4 and over 0.82 (0.75-0.91) 0.84 (0.76-0.92)
2nd level: health situation **
Number of self-reported NCDs 0.001c 0.001c
None 1.00 1.00
1-2 1.77 (1.52-2.05) 1.74 (1.46-2.07)
3 and over 2.80 (2.48-3.17) 2.40 (2.08-2.76)
Nutritional status 0.001a 0.422a
Eutrophy 1.00 1.00
Overweight 1.25 (1.11-1.42) 1.06 (0.92-1.24)
Food insecurity 0.001a 0.001a
No 1.00 1.00
Yes 1.49 (1.31-1.70) 1.33 (1.17-1.51)
3rd level: knowledge of health and nutrition and healthcare model ***
Access to health information 0.204a 0.181a
Yes 1.00 1.00
No 1.11 (0.95-1.29) 1.09 (0.96-1.23)
Healthcare model 0.856a 0.437a
Family health 1.00 1.00
Traditional 0.99 (0.84-1.15) 0.94 (0.80-1.10)
4th level: life habits ***
Follow-up of the Ten Steps of Healthy Eating 0.216b 0.134b
None 1.00 1.00
1 0.88 (0.57-1.36) 0.90 (0.61-1.33)
2 0.95 (0.65-1.40) 0.88 (0.62-1.23)
3 0.86 (0.59-1.24) 0.79 (0.57-1.09)
4 and over 0.81 (0.58-1.14) 0.80 (0.59-1.09)
Physical activity 0.001a 0.002a
Yes 1.00 1.00
No 1.33 (1.14-1.55) 1.29 (1.10-1.51)
Tobacco use 0.787a 0.659a
No 1.00 1.00
Yes 0.99 (0.88-1.10) 0.97 (0.86-1.10)
Alcoholic beverage consumption 0.002a 0.769a
No 1.00 1.00
Yes 0.75 (0.63-0.90) 0.96 (0.71-1.29)

NCDs: Noncommunicable diseases. Tests:



c)linear trend.

*2 losses;

**372 losses;

***264 losses.


The prevalence of negative self-perception of health was double that of the overall population, both in other countries7,8 and in Brazil3,5. It was also higher than the almost 30% found in elderly PHC users in Goiânia (GO)12, but approximately half that found in adult PHC users in Porto Alegre (RS)11. Such gaps may be due to the different nature of the study participants, showing that PHC users comprise a group with specific characteristics and that requires specific care in this aspect.

Regarding the associated factors, similar to that observed in other studies, it was found that, among the participants, the outcome was positively associated with females4,5,7,8,11, at the diagnosis of some NCD5,6,9,11 not to be working4 and to physical inactivity4,10,12, which suggests that, in fact, the probability of negative self-perception of health is higher in these groups.

From the studies available in the literature, none evaluated a possible association between food insecurity and negative self-perceived health. Food and nutritional insecurity are characterized as a lack of regular, permanent and sufficient access to quality foods17. Besides the vital prevalence of food insecurity in both Pelotas (RS) and throughout the country, which ranges between 10 and 30%,18,19 this condition may be associated with a higher probability of negative self-perception of health. In this study, it was observed that the insecure individuals evidenced a higher probability of the outcome, which is plausible, considering that, in such analysis, they are considered criteria for access to food15 and, of course, individuals who do not feed themselves in sufficient quantity or quality may show a predisposition to show negative self-perception of their health

Moreover, the probability of negative self-perception of health was lower among those with higher schooling and in other population groups studied3,5,7,11. It was also lower in those who reported a higher number of residents in the household, which, while different from the literature12, is plausible, since direct contact with other people and the support received from them can improve the perception of one's health.

No differences were observed for age, as in the other studies performed with PHC users11,12. However, most studies with the general population point to the positive effect of old age on the occurrence of negative self-perceived health4,6,7,9. It may be that such a distinction is because PHC users are precisely seeking care and, at that moment, perceive their health more negatively, regardless of age. The situation is repeated in the income analysis of the respondents, since it did not affect the outcome, corroborating the findings of another study conducted only with adults attended in the public health system11, but disregarding the results of studies with the general population3,5,9.

The self-reported skin color was not associated with the outcome, which is in agreement with the literature3,12, as well as alcohol consumption11. On the other hand, there was no association between nutritional status and negative self-perception of health, unlike other studies4,7,9, as well as for tobacco use4,911, unhealthy eating habits8,9 and marital status12, which suggests, considering the hierarchical analysis, that such factors do not affect the occurrence of negative self-perceived health.

Comparison of results with other available data points to the need for additional studies specifically with adults and elderly PHC users to better elucidate the inconsistencies, mainly because negative self-perception of health can influence the demand for healthcare and, in some situations, in adherence to health treatment, especially in chronic patients, who require a change of lifestyle. Thus, determining how this population self-perceives its health status can also be useful for health planning, as well as contributing to the success of interventions performed by health professionals.

Positive points are the low percentage of losses and the adequate statistical power for most of the comparisons, as well as their contribution to the knowledge related to self-perceived health, specifically among adults and the elderly attended in the PHC, a subject that has not yet been explored.

One of the limitations of the study is its cross-sectional design, which allows only the identification of the association between factors and outcome, besides the possibility of reverse causality for some variables. Also, the fact that the interviews conducted in the waiting room of the health services may have under- or overestimated some observations.


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Received: November 16, 2016; Revised: February 06, 2017; Accepted: February 08, 2017


Ivana Loraine Lindemann participated in the planning and implementation of the project, data collection and entry supervision, data analysis, writing and discussing the results and writing the paper. Natasha Rodrigues Reis participated in the data collection, entry and analysis, writing and discussing the results and writing the paper. Gicele Costa Mintem participated in the data analysis, discussion of results and paper review. Raúl Andrés Mendoza-Sassi participated in the planning and implementation of the project, data analysis, discussion of results and paper review.

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