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Friday, October 28, 2016

Harvard Public Health Review: The Key to Changing Individual Health Behavior

What is health behavior and how are we influenced by it? According to Wikipedia, "health behavior refers to a person's beliefs and actions regarding their health and well-being". In knowing that our health behaviors are directly linked to how we lead our lives and what lifestyles we choose, how healthy are we anyway? It may matter to some -- but not everyone -- this is where education, motivation and social support come in to play.

Simply put, positive health behaviors assist with the promotion of disease prevention, and certainly that means the promotion of healthier lifestyle behavior choices. It has been found by further research into health behavior that additional influencers are right in front of us -- our physical and social environment. This research which can be found by reading the article, also suggests that by modifying our environment, a great determinant to making effective, healthy behavior change is more likely to happen. How can a promotion of "redesigning" our environment to better accommodate healthy behaviors in order to minimize unhealthy lifestyle behavior change not be a good thing?

Here is an example of how our environment can influence choice:

"A person's actions can be dramatically influenced by related contextual features. For instance, research show that kitchenware size significantly influences serving and eating behavior". There are a few other examples that can be found in the article".

Positive change can begin with having government food programs (like SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and school lunch programs begin to make healthier food selections more accessible to everyone. While it may not be easily accessible to many who struggle with affordability now, it can eventually become affordable for everyone with unified continued efforts and government support. 

Health behavior can be positively influenced by simplifying nutrition labels to make them more understandable to everyone also. To take the nutrition label reading one step further, there is a program called NuVal, which is an independently designed system that provides a score for a foods' particular nutrient value. Another model for further consideration is a traffic-light food rating system that identifies foods by green, yellow and red. All of these systems mentioned provide the consumer good awareness with regard to their food choices.

To learn more about ways to avoid further damage to our society's overall health (and beyond) by encouraging the prevention of chronic lifestyle diseases, our focus needs to encompass more than individual behaviors, but also our surrounding environment that actually enables unhealthy behaviors as seen through marketing, ubiquitous fast food and the media. Thoughts?

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