Health Knowledge vs. Health Behavior

Does anybody like pop quizzes?  Even for the most prepared of students, they’re stressful!  If there’s anything more annoying than a pop quiz, it’s having one on the first day of class!  That’s exactly what happened last Thursday when a professor started passing a quiz around halfway into a 2.5 hour class.  The quiz is an easy one, so I’ll pass it on to you.  Keep track of the simple statements, which are either ‘True’ or ‘False’.

  1. Wearing seat belts can reduce the risk of being seriously hurt or killed in a car accident.
  2. Abuse of cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs can have a negative effect on your health.
  3. A healthy diet should include lots of fruits, vegetables, breads and cereals, and should limit the amount of fats, oils and sweets.
  4. Being able to get along with people and having a positive attitude is an important part of your mental and emotional health.
  5. Regular exercise is good for your physical health.
  6. Doctors recommend that the average person get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  7. Stress can sometimes cause serious health problems.
  8. Brushing and flossing your teeth every day can help reduce cavities and gum disease.

How easy was that?!  It’s pretty easy to assume that you  earned a perfect score, or you disagree with Question 3 just like I do.  (If that’s the case, just wait until my next post!)  This rather elementary test shows that most of us know exactly what is healthy or not.  Now, let’s follow that up with a ‘Health Behavior Quiz’.

  1. I wear seat belts every time I ride in an automobile.
  2. I do not use cigarettes, alcohol, or any other drugs.
  3. I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, breads and cereals, and very little fats, oils and sweets.
  4. I am usually in a good mood, and I get along with most people.
  5. I get one half-hour of vigorous exercise at least three of four times per week.
  6. I get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
  7. I handle stress well.
  8. I brush and floss my teeth every day.

A little harder, right?  Most people would fail this quiz with around a 50%, but I’m hoping that my readers are a little more responsible with their health!  What kind of scores did you have?  Let me know!

The point of this quiz is to point out the difference between knowing what’s important to achieving and maintaining good health, and actually doing it.  Most people can tell you what’s healthy, but they don’t actually do it.  You don’t need proof, just walk into a McDonald’s and ask people if they’re eating healthy food.  Few will say yes, but they’ll keep on eating that Big Mac or McCafe Iced Carmel Mocha.  Does anyone who uses tobacco products think they’re healthy?  Hell, half of them tell you not to start smoking in the first place!  Stress can have a terrible impact on your health, but if you were to sit through rush hour on the Belt Parkway, you’d think nobody was aware of this.  We know what to do right, so why don’t we do it?


There are plenty of factors that influence any individual decision that we make, which eventually add up.  Choosing some chocolate cake over an apple isn’t a big deal at all, unless it’s a decision you make on a regular basis.  I think that a common misconception is that we have to be perfect, and if we’re not, then it doesn’t really matter.  Being perfect isn’t the goal, it’s making decisions  that optimize your health.

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  ~World Health Organization, 1948

We tend to think of health as being black and white, that you either have it or you don’t.  Instead, think of it as a sliding scale, based on your decisions and behavior.  ‘Perfect’ health isn’t an end point or a goal, but a concept; have you been making the best choices to improve your physical, mental and social health?  If so, then great!  If not, what can you do differently to make better decisions?  Maybe it’s taking a 30 second walk around the office every 15 minutes to keep fresh without relying on coffee.  Perhaps it’s as simple as walking to and from work or the store, to build activity into your day, and clear your mind.  Maybe you meditate in the shower, or use breakfast to clear your mind and prepare for the day.  Choose to play volleyball instead of basking in the sun all day at the beach.  Cook with wine for extra flavor instead of ruining your 6 pack with a 6 pack.

In any given situation, it’s not about choosing what’s right vs what’s wrong, it’s about choosing what’s best for you at that time.  Sometimes going out for friends with pizza is more important to your mental and social health than worrying about the macronutrient break down of your food.  Sometimes replacing your intense workout with an easier workout will be better for you at the end of the day, when you feel energized and better recovered instead of worn down and tired.  In any situation, make the best choice for your health.

We know what’s is healthy; I’m sure you did well on the first set of questions.  On the second set, we could all do a little better.  Next time you’re considering various options, think about which one will be better for your health.  Your brain and body will thank you for it.

7 Replies to “Health Knowledge vs. Health Behavior”

  1. I took the quiz before reading what you wrote and was confused why they were all true except half of #3.

    Anyway, very good piece as usual!

    1. Thanks Juliet! The issue with #3 has to do with the recommendation for consumption of breads and cereals, and recommendation against fats and oils. With the latter, it depends more so on the sourcing; there’s obviously a difference between a corn dog and a steak or eggs. As for the breads and cereals, I think that you can find healthier options of the two, but I don’t think they’re inherently healthy; they’re still really processed, and we could be eating more nutrient dense foods. If we’re considering the nutrient density as a marker of how we should be eating, plants and animals are what we need, not some man-made processed junk sold under the guise of health food!

      1. That was my logic behind it. Generally speaking, I classify breads (moreso that cereals) as a “not as bad as most processed foods” depending on the bread, but that being said, being not as bad as most processed foods isn’t much of a feat nor does it equate to “good”. Re. fats, I am actually having a guest poster on my own blog in the next few weeks on the subject. I think her piece should really be good and I am looking forward to being able to provide my readers with a good resource.

      2. That’s certainly sound logic, I agree with that. Sure, we can eat worse foods, but you can also eat a lot healthier. I’m looking forward to that post, you always have great content!

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