Module 1 – Home
Concepts of Health Behavior
Modular Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this module, the student will be able to satisfy the following outcomes:
Describe the relationships between behavior, risk factors, and health; and describe uses for data sources.
Identify health behaviors of interest and assess needs for behavior change among a target population.
Discuss why unhealthy behavior is not simply a matter of “willpower.”
Defining Health, Behavior, and Risk Factors
The World Health Organization (WHO) defined “health” as more than the absence of disease; it included a broader view which defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being” (WHO, 1998, p. 1).
Behavior can be defined as an action that has a “specific frequency, duration and purpose, whether conscious or unconscious. Internal responses such as thinking or feeling may be inferred from observable behavior. Behavior may also refer to how people react with one another as well as their environment and can be considered a product of heredity, culture, and environment. Behavior can be both positive (beneficial) and negative (harmful). Health educators encourage positive behaviors” (Modeste & Tamoyose, 2004, p. 8).
Risk factors are variables that can increase a person’s chances of developing health problems. WHO defines risk factors as “social, economic, or biological status, or environments which are associated with or cause increased susceptibility to a specific disease, ill health, or injury” (WHO, 1998, p. 18). Remember that a risk factor for one person may not be for another. For example, having a parent with alcoholism increases an individual’s risk for developing alcoholism or having a family history of diabetes increases an individual’s risk for developing diabetes. People do not have control on what genetic code they will receive from their parents; therefore, some risk factors (i.e., genetics, age, gender) cannot be changed. However, there are risk factors that individuals can change. One example is smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease. One can choose to stop smoking, thereby reducing his/her risk for developing heart disease.
Protective factors are variables that can reduce a person’s chances for developing health problems. An example of protective factor would be health and wellness policies at the workplace that support employees (i.e., offer free yearly health assessments/screenings); such policies can help reduce or prevent health problems. (U.S. Public Health Services, 2011)
Factors Influencing Health
As mentioned previously, we cannot change our genetic code or our biology that influences our health. However, there are several other factors influencing health that we can change or control.
Physiological factors—It has been known that the body’s physiological responses to stress are contributing to development of illness. Stress has been shown to affect the immune system in a negative way (i.e., reducing the body’s ability to fight off infections).
Psychological factors such as hostility, anger, depression, exhaustion, etc. have been shown to increase a person’s vulnerability to diseases. For example, hostility has been linked to heart disease. Optimism and hope have been shown to be protective factors that promote well-being and good physical health. Your reading, Committee on Health and Behavior (2001), pages 39-68 offers you more information on physiological and psychological factors influencing health.
Behavioral factors—In general, behaviors strongly influence health. Physical activity, diet, alcohol abuse, tobacco use, sexual practices, disease screening, etc. are behaviors that affect individuals’ health. For example, physical activity and diet have great impact on obesity, which is serious risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. See pages 87-113 of Committee on Health and Behavior (2001) for detailed examples.
Social factors—The social environment influences behavior and health. It helps shape the “norms” toward positive or negative health. Socioeconomic status, social networks, social support, occupational factors, social inequalities, religious or cultural beliefs, etc. are examples of social factors that can influence individual behaviors and health. See pages 138-165 of Committee on Health and Behavior (2001) for detailed examples.
Your optional readings, Committee on Health and Behavior (2001), can offer you more information on factors influencing health.
Assessing Needs for Health Behavior Change
As health professionals, it is part of our responsibility to be able to assess the needs of our target population. Needs assessment may involve collecting information on the problem, how it was measured in the past, determine what data needs to be collected now, what resources are available to address the problem now or what resources are needed; and what possible barriers and challenges to behavior change. Needs assessment tool development, data collection, and data analysis are part of health professionals’ responsibilities when assessing the needs of the target population.
For the purpose of this class, you will practice your needs assessment skill by gathering data and information that are already available on a topic related to health behavior. Review the required reading materials on conducting a community assessment. You can also review an example of Vermont Department of Health community assessment tool kit.
Additional Terms and Definitions
Primary prevention—aims to prevent the disease from occurring and reduces the incidence of disease. For example, encouraging people to brush their teeth before tooth decay occurs.
Secondary prevention—attempts to prevent the prevalence of disease through early and effective intervention or screening. Doing self breast examination once a month is an example of secondary prevention.
Tertiary prevention—intends to reduce further damage of the disease among individuals who already have the disease. For example, treatment of symptoms or prevention of relapse for substance use.
World Health Organization (1998). Health promotion glossary. Geneva, Switzerland: Division of Health Promotion, Education and Communications, Health Education and Health Promotion Unit.