Unhealthy behavior?

The latest QuickStats from the CDC is titled, “Prevalence of Selected Unhealthy Behavior Characteristics Among Adults Aged ≥18 Years, by Race — National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2005–2007.”

What is an “unhealthy behavior characteristic?” I can see smoking and drinking, and maybe physically inactive, but obesity and sleep deprivation seem like health conditions resulting from a number of factors — like access to healthy food, working conditions, living conditions, family size, other health conditions, etc. — only some of which are behavior, or at least behavioral in origin. Maybe this is a public health nuance I’m not familiar with.

Anyway, the differences are interesting.

3 thoughts on “Unhealthy behavior?

  1. Philip, I believe that the idea that these are behavioral measures comes from the notion that they are a) based on behavior and b) not biological (obesity is a little bit of a stretch, although the two largest proximal determinants of obesity are diet and exercise, so it is really an outcome). In the CDC and public health world, since it is so heavily based on the medical model, health behaviors typically mean things that people do.

    This does not mean that the CDC or those in public health think that behavior is not conditioned by “social” factors (although, at times, their definition of social is often very narrow), just that these are things that people *do* that have health consequences in contrast to something like the flu that someone *has*. In fact, as an example, there is a substantial literature on how physical activity and obesity are related to structural constraints (here is a review of the built environment and obesity literature; full disclosure, I know and work with the authors).


  2. Thanks, Mike. I guess you could say there is “doing obesity,” though I guess that’s a different point. Thanks for the tip on the review – very nice.


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