Health Behaviors, Beliefs & Attitudes

Why this is important: Unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise are associated with some of the deadliest chronic diseases (e.g., heart disease, stroke and diabetes) as well as poor memory and executive function later in life.1,2 Health behaviors are influenced by not only people’s personal characteristics but also the social contexts and environments in which they live. For example, characteristics such as people’s knowledge about health promotion, their attitudes—that is, how positively or negatively they feel toward a behavior— and beliefs regarding its risks or benefits predict the likelihood of engaging in a health behavior.3 Additionally, social factors like the built environment (e.g., availability of green spaces and grocery stores in one’s neighborhood) and the behaviors and values of friends and family members, may encourage or limit one’s own behavior.4

Because health behaviors are modifiable, they are important targets for improving population health through the prevention and control of chronic disease. Assessing communities’ engagement in various health-promoting or risky health behaviors, as well as their beliefs and attitudes regarding these behaviors, can help community organizations to identify gaps and disparities in residents’ knowledge and access to resources for a healthy lifestyle. Results may also inform the development of programmatic and public policy interventions to reduce the burden of chronic disease.

Definition: Health behaviors refer to the actions of individuals, whether intentional or unintentional, that affect their health.4 These behaviors include not only actions that make people healthier (e.g., eating a healthful diet, exercise and sleep) but also those that increase risks for poor health (e.g., smoking and drinking alcohol).

The QoL Survey included questions about respondents’ healthy lifestyle behaviors (e.g., exercise and eating) and risky health behaviors (e.g., marijuana use, poor nutrition/skipping meals). Questions were also included to assess residents’ beliefs and attitudes surrounding the following:

      • Beliefs about the importance of talking with youth about cannabis use
      • Beliefs about the harms of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as compared to regular cigarettes
      • Stress due to substance abuse/misuse by self or a family member

Data Source: 1 Beaglehole, R, Bonita, R, Horton, R,  et al. Lancet NCD Action Group; NCD Alliance.  Priority actions for the non-communicable disease crisis. The Lancet. 2011;377(9775):1438-1447. 2 Sabia S, Nabi H, Kivimaki M, Shipley MJ, Marmot MG, Singh-Manoux A. Health behaviors from early to late midlife as predictors of cognitive function: The Whitehall II study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2009 Aug 15;170(4):428-37. 3 Conner M. Cognitive determinants of health behavior. In Handbook of Behavioral Medicine 2010 (pp. 19-30). Springer, New York, NY. 4 Short SE, Mollborn S. Social determinants and health behaviors: conceptual frames and empirical advances. Current Opinion in Psychology. 2015 Oct 1; 5:78-84.