Defining ‘Health Behavior’
Today, we are going to begin exploring the simplified model of health behavior I introduced in last week’s post. However, I would like to start by clarifying just what ‘health behaviors’ are. Over the years, I have found David Gochman’s definition to be one of the most comprehensive. Gochman (1997) defined health behavior as ‘those personal attributes such as beliefs, expectations, motives, values, perceptions, and other cognitive elements; personality characteristics, including affective and emotional states and traits; and overt behavioral patterns, actions and habits that related to health maintenance, to health restoration, and to health improvement.’
Knowledge: Not Just Facts
‘Knowledge’ is the first component of our Simplified Theory (as a reminder, the other three components are ‘tools’, ‘skills’, and ‘materials’). We will break knowledge into two basic elements: factual information and attitudes/beliefs. Without drifting into a lengthy discussion of metaphysics, there are many academics who have proposed that there is not one reality, but many (I know, I know…it sounds pretty ‘out there’ – just bear with me). In some ways, they are right.
Is Perception Reality?
Individuals dictate their reality in a very concrete way, based on they perceive the world. This ‘subjective’ reality appears objective to the individual, and also has external consequences – but does that make it more ‘real’? To be clear, there is only one reality – my point is that there are infinite ways to perceive that reality, and how a given individual will carry out that perceptual process is determined by the innumerable experiences that person has had.
Necessary, but Not Sufficient
We live in the ‘Information Age’ – enjoying unprecedented access to factual information than ever before in human history. However, this access doesn’t seem to have translated to better health. In fact, health in the United States has been declining for decades, and now, for the first time ever, children born today may actually live shorter lives than their parents. This is unacceptable. But how do we fix it?
Providing information is only the first step to promoting behavioral change. The bigger challenge is changing the attitudes and beliefs that prevent that information from being used to influence behavior and affect health. Next week, we’ll talk about some strategies by which that can be accomplished, on both the individual and organizational level.
Can you think of an example in your life where there is a disconnect between ‘information’ and ‘attitudes’? Have your beliefs about a behavior ever prevented you from trying it, even though you ‘knew’ it would be good for you? Please help to continue this conversation by adding your comments below!