Health anxiety can be defined as a multifaceted trait that is primarily characterised by a fear of, or preoccupation with, serious illness. Whereas low levels of health anxiety can be helpful, clinically significant levels are associated with personal suffering and substantial societal costs. As general anxiety is probably on the rise, and the Internet has increased access to health-related information, it is commonly speculated that health anxiety has increased over the past decades. We tested this hypothesis based on a systematic review and meta-analysis of birth cohort mean health anxiety in Western university student samples from 1985 to 2017. Sixty-eight studies with 22 413 student participants were included. The primary analysis indicated that the mean score on the Illness Attitudes Scales had increased by 4.61 points (95 % CI: 1.02, 8.20) from 1985 to 2017. The percentage of general population Internet users in the study year of data collection was not predictive of student mean health anxiety. In conclusion, this study corroborates the hypothesis of an increase in health anxiety, at least in the student population, over the past decades. However, this increase could not be linked to the introduction of the Internet.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
- Birth cohort
- Cross-temporal meta-analysis
- Health anxiety