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Biological evidence can persuade people to change unhealthy habits

When confronted with evidence of how their behavior is harming their bodies, some people will adopt healthier attitudes and lifestyles, according to a review of existing research.

Modifiable behaviors, such as smoking, obesity, alcohol and lack of exercise are responsible for nearly half of the leading causes of American deaths, according to the review, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Increasing awareness that one has some personal risk of harm, or has already caused physical harm through unhealthy habits, may increase motivation for health behavior change, says author Jennifer B. McClure, Ph.D., of the Center for Health Studies of the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.

Studies that assess the use of biological indicators of health status, referred to as biomarkers, to motivate people to take better care of themselves have produced mixed results, but when analyzed together a pattern emerges, McClure says

In her analysis of eight randomized studies, those studies that did not show a significant effect on motivation or behavior change used a single health indicator, tested on one occasion. In contrast, studies that showed positive results used a single indicator assessed at multiple visits or multiple indicators assessed at a single visit.

For example, in one study, patients informed of their carbon monoxide levels (resulting from smoking) and genetic susceptibility for lung cancer were twice as likely to attempt to quit smoking compared with similar subjects who were not provided feedback on their personal disease risk.

The health indicators reviewed include cholesterol level, carbon monoxide level, lung cancer susceptibility genes, depressed breathing function and other pulmonary symptoms and physical fitness.

The studies explored the effects of health indicators on tobacco use, dietary change and physical activity. The number of participants in each study varied f
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Contact: Lee Tucker Therriault
therriault.l@ghc.org
206-448-6135
Center for the Advancement of Health
19-Mar-2002


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