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