The effects on health of behaviours such as smoking(22) and high alcohol use(23) are well documented. There is overwhelming evidence that smokers not only are much more likely to die from lung cancer and other cancers but also have much higher rates of cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disorders, particularly emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Moreover, the disease risk is dose related in that higher levels of smoking are more strongly associated with all these diseases. With sustained high levels of alcohol use a different but equally unpleasant spectrum of health problems can be seen. Drinking is a major cause of accidents particularly motoring accidents and can cause liver damage as well as having detrimental effects on brain functioning. (1)
For health psychologists, the key questions about health-risk behaviours concern their origin, their maintenance, and their prevention or treatment. There are diverse determinants of these behaviours since they may start as ways of coping with stress, in response to peer pressure, for pleasure, and for a number of other reasons. Similarly, they will be maintained by a variety of psychological, social, and biological factors.
There are many other risky behaviours that cannot be discussed in detail in an overview; these include drug abuse, poor diet, and accidents, and the health effects of all these are also well documented.(1) Although health psychology has an important role to play in describing, explaining, and intervening in all risk behaviours, it is very important not to think of these problems exclusively in individual, behavioural terms since they often reflect adverse social circumstances or particular cultural contexts.(24)
The same caveats about the influence of social and cultural factors must also be applied to the understanding of health-protective or health-enhancing behaviours. Prospective cohort studies have confirmed that various daily behaviours (e.g. patterns of eating, sleeping, and exercise) can have significant long-term effects on health.(25> For example, there is now a growing body of evidence to indicate that regular exercise has a beneficial effect on physical and psychological health. (26) Exercise can reduce the incidence of physical health problems in elderly people and facilitate recovery from heart attack. However, there can be significant problems in ensuring that exercise and other health-promoting activities are adhered to. (27) Interventions need to be planned carefully, because it has been shown that it is usually very difficult to make and maintain changes in health-related behaviour. Information provision is rarely sufficient to promote behaviour change since it is also necessary to elicit and modify beliefs (see below) as well as influencing social networks in order to ensure success.
Was this article helpful?
Among the evils which a vitiated appetite has fastened upon mankind, those that arise from the use of Tobacco hold a prominent place, and call loudly for reform. We pity the poor Chinese, who stupifies body and mind with opium, and the wretched Hindoo, who is under a similar slavery to his favorite plant, the Betel but we present the humiliating spectacle of an enlightened and christian nation, wasting annually more than twenty-five millions of dollars, and destroying the health and the lives of thousands, by a practice not at all less degrading than that of the Chinese or Hindoo.