The Kings Fund has published research on the clustering of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, which explores the inter-linked relationships of smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise across the UK population.
Many adults engage in more than one unhealthy behaviour, which can result in a potential 14 year gap in life expectancy if all 4 unhealthy behaviours are followed. The research found that the overall percentage of individuals engaging in 3 or 4 unhealthy behaviours had fallen from 33% in 2003 to 25% in 2008.
However the fall in numbers seems to be amongst those people from higher socioeconomic and educational groups. People with no qualifications were 5 times more likely to engage in more than 3 unhealthy behaviours in 2008 compared to 3 times more likely in 2003. Yet although lifestyle behaviours impact strongly on mortality risk, the impact on quality of life is not so evident. This may be interpreted as people not fully understanding the impact of adopting multiple unhealthy behaviours until it is too late.
The authors state that their findings suggest the gap in health inequalities is still widening, with implications for policy and strategy development. How do we best motivate and support people to climb down the “risk ladder”? Should future policies and strategies focus on multiple behaviours rather than single issues? Which single issues should be prioritised?
The Kings Fund recommends that the NHS follows through the Making Every Contact Count agenda, and that there appears to be a need for health trainers and for community champion roles to be further developed.