Changing Behavior is Difficult but Can Improve Health

Health and Behavior: Research, practice, and policy

From 1997 to 2000, researchers at the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM), in a study called "Health and Behavior: The Interplay of Biological, Behavioral, and Societal Influences," examined information developed over the last two decades about the links between behavior and health, the influence of social environment on behaviors, and interventions to improve health by modifying behavior or personal relationships.

Key Results

Among the study's findings:

  • Health and disease are determined by dynamic interactions among biological, psychological, behavioral, and social factors that occur over time.
  • Psychosocial factors such as socioeconomic status, social inequalities, social networks and support, work conditions, depression, anger, and hostility interact with biological processes to influence health and disease.
  • Changing behavior and sustaining that behavior change is more difficult than learning a new behavior.
  • Behavior can most effectively be changed via interventions that target multiple factors, although maintaining a changed behavior over time is difficult.
  • Individual behavior, family interactions, relationships and resources in the community and workplace, and public policy all affect health and behavior change. Changing behavior and sustaining that behavior change is more difficult than learning a new behavior.

Key Recommendations

  • Funding agencies support interdisciplinary research and intervention studies that integrate biological, psychological, behavioral, and social variables, and evaluations that extend over appropriate lengths of time.
  • Research studies should include ways to clarify how social and psychological factors influence health and which interventions most effectively alter these factors in order to improve health.

Funding

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project through a grant of $450,000.

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