Attending an NHS Health Check is associated with a lower risk of both death and several diseases, according to a new study.
An observational study using UK Biobank participants, published today, found that among those who took up an NHS Health check there was a 19% lower rate of dementia diagnosis and 23% lower risk of death from any cause.
The researchers investigated associations between attending the Health Check appointment at their GP practice and the risk of death or future diagnosis of 14 different health conditions.
Out of 97,204 total participants, half of them took up the check between 2008 and 2016, and they were each matched with a participant in the control group who did not attend but who shared very similar characteristics, including socio-demographic, lifestyle and medical factors.
All participants were followed up over an average of nine years, and modelling was used to compare outcome rates between the two groups.
The authors found that in the immediate two years following the NHS Health Check, there were higher diagnosis rates for hypertension, high cholesterol, and chronic kidney disease among recipients compared to the control group.
However, they found that after the longer nine-year follow-up period, recipients of the Health Check had ‘significantly lower risk across all multiorgan disease outcomes and reduced rates of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality’.
Other findings for study participants who attended the check:
- 19% lower rate of dementia diagnosis
- 23% lower rate of acute kidney injury diagnosis
- 44% lower rate of liver cirrhosis diagnosis
- 23% lower risk of death from any cause
- 23% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality
The authors said these lower rates ‘may be attributed to risk modification through earlier detection and treatment of key risk factors such as hypertension and high cholesterol’.
They also said that while the Health Check is only a 15-minute appointment, it ‘sets up a relationship’ with the GP team, which ‘may not otherwise occur in ostensibly healthy people’.
The NHS Health Check is offered to adults aged between 40 and 74 and is geared towards identifying those at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease.
GP teams conduct a basic health check and behaviour survey, and attendees are followed up with tailored support aimed at preventing the onset of these health conditions.
Previous research has found that the check is linked to higher diagnosis rates in the short term.
The authors said: ‘Our findings corroborate these observations in a much larger independent cohort by demonstrating an increased diagnosis of incident hypertension, high cholesterol, and chronic kidney disease in the immediate period after the NHS Health Check.
‘These conditions are typically asymptomatic with a long pre-clinical phase. As such, they are almost always identified through screening or opportunistic diagnosis.
‘The longer follow-up duration in our study enabled us to extend existing knowledge by demonstrating that this apparent increase in diagnosis is confined to the first two years after the NHS Health Check, after which the risk of incident health events is significantly lower in recipients.’
Dr Mariam Molokhia, associate professor in epidemiology and primary care at King’s College London, told Pulse the study ‘really shows the importance of preventative medicine’ but also that there needs to be a focus on ‘targeting underserved groups’.
‘I think we are seeing quite stark differential uptake in health checks across a number of co-variates, and these remain after adjustment for patient and practice-level factors. I think better measures of social determinants of health and practice context are needed,’ she said.
Dr Molokhia pointed to biases within the study, which the authors highlighted themselves: ‘The Biobank is very strongly biased to a white population, they don’t have much ethnic diversity. As the authors say, there’s a very strong selection bias.
‘Firstly for participants who actually take up the Biobank – so we know the Biobank have a recruitment rate of about 10%. So the people that do participate are obviously very positively health-motivated.
‘And we know also that people that take up health checks are more likely to be interested in their health than the general population, just because they’re the ones that respond proactively to the invitations.’
However, she said the health check is useful for picking up long-term conditions and other health concerns, and it ‘may support individuals to seek further engagement with their GP’.
At the Spring Budget last year, the Government confirmed that the check will go digital, following a pilot launched in Cornwall in 2022.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.