Poor Health Behaviors Combo Has Major Effect on Mortality

Researchers conclude modest improvements to diet, lifestyle could have substantial benefits
By Lindsey Marcellin
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- The combined ill effects of several negative health behaviors -- ranging from suboptimal fruit and vegetable intake to smoking -- result in major increases in mortality, according to a study in the April 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Elisabeth Kvaavik, Ph.D., of the University of Oslo in Norway, and colleagues conducted a prospective cohort study of 4,886 adults in the United Kingdom who were at least 18 years of age in 1984 to 1985, calculating health behavior scores based on multiple poor health behaviors: smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption less than three times a day, weekly alcohol intake of more than 14 units in women and more than 21 in men, and less than two hours of physical activity a week.

Participants were followed for a mean of 20 years, during which time 1,080 died. The researchers found that adjusted hazard ratios for total mortality associated with engaging in one, two, three, and four poor health behaviors compared with engaging in none were, respectively, 1.85, 2.23, 2.76, and 3.49. Combined health behaviors had the strongest effect on deaths from causes other than cancer or cardiovascular disease; it had the weakest on cancer-related mortality. Having four poor health behaviors compared with having no poor health behaviors resulted in an all-cause mortality risk equivalent to being 12 years older than actual age.

"Modest but achievable adjustments to lifestyle behaviors are likely to have a considerable impact at both the individual and population level. Developing more efficacious methods by which to promote healthy diets and lifestyles across the population should be an important priority of public health policy," the authors write.

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