Disease Diagnosis Can Spur Change in Lifestyle

Study found smokers, obese more likely to change when given bad news about health

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MONDAY, Feb. 9, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Being diagnosed with a serious condition such as heart disease or diabetes can prompt middle-aged and older adults to make health behavior changes, such as quitting smoking or losing weight, a Yale University study shows.

The researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, which included middle-aged and older adults who were surveyed at least twice between 1992 and 2000. The surveys included 20,221 overweight or obese people younger than 75, and 7,764 smokers.

During the survey period, 18 percent of the smokers quit, and the average body-mass index (BMI) of overweight and obese respondents increased by 0.04 units. About 13 percent of the smokers were diagnosed with stroke, cancer, lung disease, heart disease or diabetes. About 8 percent of the overweight/obese people were diagnosed with lung disease, heart disease or diabetes.

The Yale researchers found that people newly diagnosed with health problems were more likely to change their health habits than those without a new diagnosis. Smokers newly diagnosed with at least one condition were 3.2 times more likely to quit than those without a new diagnosis. Overweight or obese people diagnosed with at least one condition lost an average of 2 to 3 pounds more than those without a new diagnosis.

Multiple diagnoses increased the likelihood of health behavior changes. Smokers with multiple diagnoses were 6.1 times more likely to quit than those with no new diagnoses. Overweight/obese people with one diagnosis lost an average of 0.34 BMI units, while those with more than one diagnosis lost an average of 0.64 BMI units.

The findings were published in the Feb. 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Targeting individuals with recent new diagnoses may be particularly effective in middle-aged and older individuals, who are increasingly likely to receive a major diagnosis or to be hospitalized as they age," wrote study author Patricia S. Keenan, of Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Public Health.

"Individuals with new adverse health events are accessible through contact with the health-care system or through the Internet or other written information about their disease, and this study suggests that they are more motivated to change health habits."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about healthy habits.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Feb. 9, 2009

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