Health Compromising Behaviors – Obesity, Smoking & Drinking.

Health-compromising behaviors are the behaviors practiced by people that undermine or harm their current or future health. It refers as the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit drugs. The effect of these behaviors on preterm births was considered for each substance individually, and in combination.



    • Many health-compromising behaviors are habitual, and several, including smoking, are addictive, making them very difficult habits to break.
    • On the other hand, with proper interventions, even the most intractable health habit can be modified. When a person succeeds in changing a poor health behavior, often he or she will make other healthy lifestyle changes.
  • The end result is that risk declines, and a disease-free middle and old age becomes a possibility. It share several additional important characteristics.
    1. First, there is a window of vulnerability in adolescence. Behaviors such as drinking to excess, smoking, using illicit drugs, practicing unsafe sex, and taking risks that can lead to accidents or early death. All begin in early adolescence and sometimes cluster together as part of a problem behavior syndrome. Not all health-compromising behaviors develop during adolescence; obesity, for example, begins early in childhood.
    2. Many of these behaviors are tied to the peer culture, as children learn from and imitate their peers. Wanting to be attractive to others becomes very important in adolescence, and this factor is significant in the development of eating disorders, alcohol consumption, tobacco and drug use, tanning, unsafe sexual encounters, and vulnerability to injury. Many of these behaviors are pleasurable, enhancing the adolescent’s ability to cope with stressful situations, and some represent thrill seeking, which can be rewarding in its own right. Each connects to at least one major cause of death, and several, especially smoking and obesity, are risk factors for more than one major chronic disease.

Related: Emotional responses to chronic disorders 

    1. Third, these behaviors develop gradually, as the person exposes to the behavior, experiments with it, and later engages in it regularly. As such, many health-compromising behaviors acquires through a process that makes different interventions important at the different stages of vulnerability, experimentation, and regular use.
    2. Fourth, substance abuse of all kinds, whether cigarettes, food, alcohol, drugs, or health-compromising sexual behavior. Adolescent’s involvement in risky behaviors often have conflict with their parents and poor self-control.
    3. Finally, problem behaviors, including obesity, smoking, and alcoholism, are more common in the lower social classes. Practice of these health- compromising behaviors are one reason that social class is so strongly related to most causes of disease and death.

1. Obesity

Obesity is an excessive accumulation of body fat. Generally, fat should constitute about 20–27 percent of body tissue in women and about 15–22 percent in men.

Obesity is now so common that it has replaced malnutrition as the most prevalent dietary contributor to poor health world- wide. It will soon account for more diseases and deaths in the United States than smoking.

With women and older adults somewhat more likely to be overweight or obese than men and younger adults.

Portion sizes at meals have increased substantially over the past 20 years. For example, whereas the original French fries order at McDonald’s was 200 calories, today’s supersize serving has 610 calories. Muffins that weighed 1.5 ounces in 1957 now average half a pound each.

Snacking has increased more than 60 percent over the last three decades. And also easy access to food through microwave ovens and fast food restaurants contributes to the increase. The average American weight gain over the past 20 years is the caloric equivalent of only three Oreo cookies or one can of soda a day. So it does not take vast quantities of food or sugary drinks to gain weight.

Risks of Obesity

Obesity is a risk factor for many disorders. It contributes to death rates for all cancers and for the specific cancers of the colon, rectum, liver, gall-bladder, pancreas, kidney, and esophagus, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Estimates are that excess weight may account for 14 percent of all deaths from cancer in men and 20 percent of all deaths from cancer in women.

Obesity also contributes substantially to deaths from cardiovascular disease and it is tied to atherosclerosis, hypertension, Type II diabetes, and heart failure. It increases risks in surgery, anesthesia administration, and childbearing.

Obesity is a chief cause of disability. Th e number of people age 30–49 who are too heavy to care for them-selves or perform routine household tasks has jumped by50 percent. Th is increase bodes poorly for the future. People who are disabled in their 30s and 40s are more likely to have health care expenses and to need nursing home care in older age, if they live that long.

Obesity is associated with early mortality (Adams et al., 2006). People who are overweight at age 40 die, on average, 3 years earlier than people who are thin.

Key facts about Obesity as per World Health Organization 

  • Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
  • In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese.
  • 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese.
  • Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.
  • 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020.
  • Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.
  • Obesity is preventable.


Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable death. By itself and in interaction with other risk factors, it remains the chief cause of death in developed countries. The largest number of these deaths attributed to cancer, especially lung cancer.

Smoking is related to a fourfold increase in women’s risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. Smoking also increases the risk for chronic bronchitis, emphysema, respiratory disorders, damage and injuries due to fires and accidents, lower birth weight in off spring, and retarded fetal development.

Effects of Smoking

Smoking enhances the detrimental effects of other risk factors. For example, smoking and cholesterol interact to produce higher rates of heart disease than would be expected from simply adding together their individual risks (Perkins, 1985). Stress and smoking can also interact in dangerous ways.

For men, nicotine can increase heart rate reactivity to stress. For women, smoking can reduce heart rate but increase blood pressure responses to stress. Smoking acts synergistically with low SES as well: Smoking inflicts greater harm among disadvantaged groups than among more advantaged groups.

Weight and smoking can interact to increase mortality. Cigarette smokers who are thin are at increased risk of mortality, compared with average-weight smokers. Thinness is not associated with increased mortality in those people who had never smoked or among former smokers. Smokers engage in less physical activity than nonsmokers, which represents an indirect contribution of smoking to ill health.

3. Drinking

Alcohol is responsible for approximately 79,000 deaths each year, making it the third-leading cause of preventable death after tobacco and improper diet and exercise.

As a health issue, alcohol consumption links to high blood pressure, stroke, cirrhosis of the liver, and some forms of cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption also ties to brain atrophy and consequent deteriorating cognitive function.

Alcoholics can have sleep disorders, which, in turn, may contribute to immune alterations that elevate risk for infection. In addition to the direct costs of alcoholism through illness, accidents, and economic costs, alcohol abuse contributes to social problems.

Alcohol disinhibits aggression, so homicides, suicides, and assaults occur under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol can also facilitate other risky behaviors. For example, among sexually active adults, alcohol leads to more impulsive sexuality and poorer skills for negotiating condom use.

Drinking and Stress

Drinking occurs, in part, as an effort to buffer the impact of stress. People who have a lot of negative life events, experience chronic stressors, and have little social support are more likely to become problem drinkers than people without these problems. For example, alcohol abuse rises among people removed from their jobs.

Financial strain, especially if it produces depression, leads to drinking and a sense of powerlessness in one’s life has also been related to alcohol use and abuse. Many people begin drinking to enhance positive emotions and reduce negative ones and alcohol does reliably lower anxiety and depression and improve self-esteem, at least temporarily.

Drinking associates with pleasant social occasions, and people may develop a social life centered on drinking, such as going to bars or attending parties. Thus, there can be psychological rewards to drinking.

Depression and alcoholism are linked. Alcoholism may represent untreated symptoms of depression, or depression may act as an impetus for drinking in an effort to improve mood. Accordingly, in some cases, symptoms of both disorders must be treated simultaneously.


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