Health behaviours

Health behaviours such as diet, alcohol consumption, physical activity and smoking play an important role in health and wellbeing. However, all of these behaviours are heavily influenced by a person’s experience throughout their life course and by wider economic, social and environmental factors. 

Examples of these wider factors include: early life experiences; education and skills; money and work; housing and neighbourhood surroundings; transport; and family, friends and social connections. These factors are sometimes referred to as the social determinants of health.

Without an understanding of these wider economic, social and environmental contexts within which people live and grow and how they influence and determine health, there can be an overemphasis on the role of health behaviours in improving health and wellbeing and in reducing health inequalities.

A substantial body of international research, and our own ten-year synthesis, demonstrates the impact these wider economic, social and environmental factors have on health and in turn how individuals are able to respond to them.

This is why our work that focuses on some of these health ‘behaviours’ is always conducted with the wider context in mind.

Health behaviours diagram

Within our Children and families section we have explored what actions or interventions may enable and support people to achieve healthier behaviours. This includes work on supporting smoking cessation during pregnancy; the food environment within and around schools and how young people might be supported to travel more actively to school; young people’s relationship with alcohol and how that is affected by gender.

Other work within our Population health trends section has focused on alcohol use and harm and how best to reduce alcohol-related harm in Scotland.

A recent active travel synthesis within our Transport and travel section brings together our learning on transport and health, with a specific focus on what actions are required to enable people to increase their physical activity through adopting more active travel behaviours.

We have recently highlighted the importance of the wider economic, social and environmental factors in addressing dietary-related health issues in our response to Scottish Government’s draft healthy weight strategy, and in our rapid review of the potential impact on young people’s dietary intake of the recently introduced levy on sugar sweetened soft drinks.

Within our Healthy communities section we describe our work with the Glasgow Food Policy Partnership which is part of the Sustainable Food Cities Network. This extends food beyond an issue related to obesity and chronic ill health to some of the other pressing issues in Glasgow including food poverty, exclusion and climate change.

All of the contextual factors outlined above are interlinked and action on all of them is required to create a healthy population. We would encourage you to visit these sections to understand more about they shape and influence health and health behaviours.