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Prev Med. 1988 Mar;17(2):224-34.

Benefits and costs of lifestyle change to reduce risk of chronic disease.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester 01655.


Individuals do not benefit equally from attempts to change their lifestyles in an effort to lower their risk for disease or to improve their quality of life. A change in one lifestyle behavior may cause an increase in another risk factor and reduce the benefits of the anticipated change. The social environment exerts pressures and makes available resources that also influence the benefits and costs of a particular health behavior change. These pressures and resources vary depending on the individual and his or her social context. This article uses the target behavior of smoking as an example of a lifestyle change and considers the benefits and costs that interventionists need to be aware of if they are to effectively facilitate health behavior change. This approach requires the identification of resources at different levels of the environment (e.g., family, community, institutions) that may influence the cost/benefit ratio. Such an analysis is appropriate whether one is considering a model of individual behavior change or a public health model that seeks to intervene at the community-wide level to promote health and reduce disease risk among a large segment of the population. Specific recommendations based on this approach are offered and it is concluded that both individual and public health approaches are necessary to achieve optimal health behavior change in our population and to optimize the cost/benefit ratio of such change for all individuals.

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