What is Health Behavior?

bulbrd-rnbw-behavior-mgmtWhat is Health Behavior? Can it be changed?

Yes, it can.

According to Mosby’s Medical Dictionary,  Health Behavior is “an action taken by a person to maintain, attain, or regain good health and to prevent illness. Health behavior reflects a person’s health beliefs. Some common health behaviors are exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and obtaining necessary inoculations”

(Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 9th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.)

As in any type of behavior, there is good and bad. Good health behavior is action we take to keep ourselves healthy, like choosing healthy nutrition over junk food. Bad, or maybe a nicer way to say it–poor–health behavior can be action we don’t take that can lead to illness, like not exercising or having a yearly physical exam. Poor health behavior can also be negative actions we take that are not good for our health, like smoking or living on fast food and soda . The majority of us operate in between because it’s not always easy to maintain good behavior.

Our health behavior is formed by our beliefs, values, motives, personality traits, and habits, from the time we are children. Most of us grew up hearing that fruit and vegetables are good for us and that sweets are bad for us. Naturally, as children, we believed just the opposite so we developed the idea that vegetables were ‘yukky’. The idea was further built up by parents who “forced us” to eat our vegetables, giving the impression that it was something we wouldn’t like.

Of course, blaming your health behavior on your parents is just an example–it’s not all their fault. In the mid-1940’s to early 1950’s, parents were influenced by two modern inventions: processed food and television. Healthy nutrition soon became less important than convenience. Television became the big promoter of convenience for the overworked housewives and businessmen of that era. Packaged and canned foods were the answer to the busy Mom’s dilemma of making a ‘balanced meal’ in a matter of minutes. Food production and promotion became focused on convenience over nutrition.

So, our eating behaviors first arose from our early beliefs that vegetables were bad and that sweets were a vital food group. The parental notion that good nutrition had to be forced upon us further impressed the idea that vegetables were something we weren’t supposed to like . Then, advertising stepped in to reinforce the idea that convenience is more important than nutrition. All of those ideas are why we now have troubles today with overweight, fatigue, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments.

The good news is that health behavior change isn’t as much about changing your diet as it is about changing the way you think about what you eat or how often you exercise.

Behavior Management is about creating a new mindset that helps us believe that the bowl of fruit look much better than the chocolate donuts. It takes a little time and effort but it’s not impossible to change the way we think about food.

The Behavior Management series will guide you through understanding behavior change and how to begin making healthier choices in eating and in other areas of your life.

Personal Responsibility & Choice

blondwomanchoosinghealthy

In my studies of health and wellness management, a professor made an interesting statement in a lecture about taking personal responsibility for our own wellness:

“To talk about health only as a matter of individual choices and personal responsibility assumes that we are always aware of the choices we’re making and that we are always free to make them. The truth is that not everyone is in the same position, and there are differences in how we live and the context in which we make our decisions.”

I had to think about this. In this world of information-overload, how can we possibly be unaware of choices?  In this land of the free, how can we not be free to make those choices?  How does this affect our personal responsibility?

First, how can we be unaware of choices? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Lack of facilities, businesses or services that offer health information or healthy choices in small or rural communities
  2. Limited access to health information for low-literacy and non-English speaking populations
  3. Limited computer or Internet access to find online health and wellness information
  4. Belief that natural wellness products and services are very expensive and only available to wealthy people
  5. Confusing information about the safety and trustworthiness of wellness information and products
  6. Medical professional bias that encourages patients to discredit natural health and healing as fake or ‘just a fad’.

From the above list, we can see choices are limited by a lack of quality information in formats and places where people can easily find it. You’re not free to choose if you don’t know you have choices.

Second, what could limit the freedom to make those choices? Here are some things that can limit the freedom to make healthy choices:

  1. Health conditions that prevent eating certain foods, such as trouble digesting vegetables, fruits, legumes, or grains, or mobility conditions that limit movement
  2. The over-availability and convenience of processed packaged foods, junk foods, and ready-to-eat microwave meals that encourage convenience over healthy nutrition
  3. A steady diet of convenience foods that contain chemical additives that may promote carbohydrate addiction, or strong cravings for sugary and starchy foods, which are often mixed with unhealthy fats and oils. This addiction may cause an inability to choose healthy foods because of the strong physical cravings.
  4. Influence from family or friends who believe  natural healing is “bogus” and discourage talk about it, practicing it, or using natural products or treatments.
  5. Lack of sources for quality information and ‘how-to’ instruction.

These examples serve to show that “not everyone is in the same position, and there are differences in how we live and the context in which we make our decisions.”

Take some time to think about whether any of the things I listed affect you, your family or your friends. If you have any of these limitations, think about ways you can overcome them. If you live in a choice-limited community, get together with others and brainstorm ideas for getting more natural health information and services. You may find ways to create some do-it-yourself healthy choices that can empower you toward taking personal responsibility for your health and wellness.

If you’re stumped for ideas or things to do, the DIY Healthy Lifestyles Journal can help you and your groups to discover ways to get around the limitations that keep you from exploring natural health.

Please use the comments box below if you have questions, comments, or would like more information.