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Spouses And Healthy Lifestyles

October 2007 - A study published in Health Services Research has shown that spouses often mirror each other's positive health behaviors and that intervention programs should be designed with a broader perspective than the individual patient.

Jody Sindelar (health economist and public health professor in the Yale School of Public Health) and Tracy Falba (visiting assistant professor at Duke University's Center for Health Policy, Law and Management) analyzed longitudinal data from 6072 individuals and their spouses enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study.

They found the most significant changes in spouses' health habits occurred in behavior such as smoking and drinking (which they explain is often precipitated by outside cues) with people more than five times more likely to quit if their spouse also stopped. Significant changes were also seen in patient-directed preventive measures (such as getting a flu shot) but were less apparent in clinician-directed preventive behaviour (such as cholesterol screening).

Jody Sindelar said:

"We found that when one spouse improves his or her health behavior, the other spouse was likely to do so as well. This was consistent across all the behaviors analyzed and was similar among both males and females."

The researchers conclude that health interventions should bear in mind that individual attempts to change can be supported or sabotaged by the behavior of family members, especially spouses.

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