Health behaviors are actions individuals take that affect their health. They include actions that lead to improved health, such as eating well and being physically active, and actions that increase one’s risk of disease, such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and risky sexual behavior.
In the United States, many of the leading causes of death and disease are attributed to unhealthy behaviors. For example, poor nutrition and low levels of physical activity are associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Tobacco use is associated with heart disease, cancer, and poor pregnancy outcomes if the mother smokes during pregnancy. Excessive alcohol use is associated with injuries, certain types of cancers, and cirrhosis.
It is important to consider that not everyone has the means and opportunity to make healthy decisions. Policies and programs put in place have marginalized some population groups and communities, keeping them from the supports and resources necessary to thrive. Addressing health behaviors requires strategies to encourage individuals to engage in healthy behaviors, as well as ensuring that they can access nutritious food, safe spaces to be physically active, and supports to make healthy choices.
In the Health Behaviors area of the County Health Rankings we look at:
- Tobacco Use, looking at the percentage of adult smokers.
- Diet & Exercise, giving information on access to healthy foods ad exercise opportunities.
- Alcohol & Drug Use, measuring excessive drinking and drug overdose deaths.
- Sexual Activity, showing rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen births.