In adult quality of life (QOL) research, the QOL construct appears to differ from self-rated health status. Although increased QOL continues to be recognized as an important outcome in health promotion and medical intervention, little research has attempted to explore adolescent perceptual differences between self-rated health and QOL.
Correlational analyses were performed between self-rated health, physical health days and mental health days, and QOL. Data were collected from two different public high school adolescent samples during two different time periods (1997 & 2003) in two different geographic regions in the USA (a southern & midwestern state) with two different sample sizes (N = 5,220 and N = 140, respectively) using the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions' health-related quality of life scale (HRQOL) provided estimates of self-rated health, physical health days and mental health days, and QOL.
All correlation coefficients were significant in both samples (p ≤ .0001), suggesting sample size was not a contributing factor to the significant correlations. In both samples, adolescent QOL ratings were more strongly correlated with the mean number of poor mental health days (r = .88, southern sample; r = .89, midwestern sample) than with the mean number of poor physical health days (r = .75, southern sample; r = .79, midwestern sample), consistent with adult QOL research. However, correlation coefficients in both samples between self-rated health and the mean number of poor physical health days was slightly smaller (r = .24, southern, r = .32, midwestern) than that between self-rated health and the mean number of poor mental health days (r = .25, southern, r = .39 midwestern), which is contrary to adult QOL research.
Similar to adults, these results suggest adolescents are rating two distinct constructs, and that self-rated health and QOL should not be used interchangeably. QOL, in the context of public high school adolescents, is based largely upon self-reported mental health and to a lesser extent on self-reported physical health. Conversely, although self-reported mental health and self-reported physical health both contribute significantly to adolescent self-rated health, mental health appears to make a greater contribution, which is contrary to observations with adults. Health promoting efforts for adolescents may need to focus more on mental health than physical health, when considering population needs and type of micro or macro intervention.