PHRC Phase 2 (2011-2019) projects – Cross-cutting projects

Health behaviours and health behaviour change among adults in England

Lead investigator

Professor Hilary Graham, Department of Health Sciences, University of York


Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor dietary habits and physical inactivity are major determinants of poor health and premature mortality. Socioeconomic gradients in heath behaviours also contribute to inequalities in health and mortality risk.

Promoting healthy lifestyles is therefore central to England’s public health strategy, including Public Health England’s One You campaign that seeks to encourage adults to address health-damaging behaviours. Promoting healthy lifestyles is also central to the NHS Five Year Forward View, which rests on enabling population prevention at scale. Tracking progress on healthy lifestyles is integral to the Department of Health’s Public Health Outcomes Framework which includes indicators for the four behaviours.

Health behaviours are patterned by age, gender, socioeconomic circumstances and cultural background and are often resistant to change. While pregnancy is known to facilitate positive lifestyle changes, little is known about whether other common life transitions – e.g. moving into employment, changes in income or changes in relationship status - are also associated with changes in health behaviours.

To generate robust evidence on contemporary lifestyles requires studies with both large samples and relevant measures of health behaviours and social position (socioeconomic circumstances, cultural background etc.). For evidence on changes in lifestyles, including impacts of life transitions, longitudinal studies are required.

Aims and objectives

The project aims to enrich the evidence base for public health policies by providing up-to-date information for adults in England on cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity.

The objectives are:

  • to investigate the prevalence and social patterning of the four health behaviours in 2013/14
  • to investigate the prevalence and social patterning of changes in the four health behaviours between 2010/11 and 2013/14
  • to explore whether key life transitions - moving into employment, changes in income, changes in relationship status - are associated with changes in the four health behaviours


The project is analysing data from the UK’s largest longitudinal study, Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). Information on the four health behaviours were collected from study participants in 2010/11 (wave 2) and 2013/14 (wave 5).

The project is employing bivariate and multivariate analysis techniques to:

  • (i) investigate health behaviours at wave 5 (2013/14) and their social patterning
  • (ii) investigate changes in health behaviours between 2010/11 and 2013/14 and their social patterning
  • (iii) conduct exploratory analysis into the potential impact of life transitions on health behaviours


  • Professor Catherine Law, UCL Institute of Child Health
  • Professor Lucinda Platt, Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Dr Heather Wardle, Heather Wardle Research Ltd

01/01/2016 - 31/03/2017 (15 months)