Percentage engaging in risky lifestyle behaviours - bar graph

Related to: Smoking, Alcohol, Diet and Malnutrition, Physical Activity, Inequalities, Mental Health and Illness

Key Facts:

  • It is estimated that 26% of over 16s (39,000 adults) in Bath and North East Somerset engage in 3 or 4 lifestyle risks
  • Men and younger people are more likely to engage in multiple risk factors than women and older people

  • Engaging in multiple unhealthy lifestyle behaviours is strongly linked to socio-economic inequality as people with no qualifications are almost 5 times more likely to engage in multiple lifestyle risks.


The Kings Fund recently released a report examining how lifestyle risk behaviours are grouped in the population. 1

People’s lifestyles – whether they smoke, how much they drink, what they eat, whether they take regular exercise – affect their health and mortality. It is well known that each of these lifestyle risk factors is unequally distributed in the population. However, research has tended to focus on these risk factors individually but recent research from the Kings Fund has attempted to look at how these behaviours co-occur or cluster in the population.

It reviews the current evidence on multiple lifestyle risks and analyses data from the Health Survey for England on the distribution of these risks in the adult population and how this is changing over time.

Key points from the Kings Fund report:2

  • Men are more likely to engage in multiple risk factors than women
  • Age is also a factor with younger people being more likely to engage in 3 or 4 risk factors than older people and 45-64 year olds being most likely to have 0 or 1 unhealthy behaviours.
  • The overall proportion of the English population that engages in three or four unhealthy behaviours has declined significantly, from around 33 per cent of the population in 2003, to 25 per cent in 2008.
  • These reductions have been seen mainly among those in higher socio-economic and educational groups: people with no qualifications were more than five times as likely as those with higher education to engage in all four poor behaviours in 2008, compared with only three times as likely in 2003.
  • The health of the overall population will improve as a result of the decline in these behaviours, but the poorest and those with least education will benefit least, leading to widening inequalities and avoidable pressure on the NHS.

 Multiple lifestyle risks in Bath and North East Somerset 3

Synthetic estimates of numbers of B&NES residents engaging in multiple lifestyle risks suggests that approximately 39,000 adults in B&NES are engaging in 3 or 4 lifestyle risks, this is 26% of the 16 plus population. Almost 100,000 B&NES residents are likely to be engaging in 1 or 2 risky lifestyle behaviours (68%) and the remaining 9000 are not engaging in any of the four unhealthy behaviours described above.

Figure 1 shows that people with no qualifications are most likely to engage in more risky behaviours which has implications for service delivery in B&NES.

Percentage engaging in risky lifestyle behaviours - bar graph

Figure 1: Percentage engaging in risky lifestyle behaviours

Unicef’s 2013 unhealthy and risky behaviours of children and young people in rich countries comparative overview 4

In Unicef’s 2013 child unhealthy and risky behaviours in rich countries comparative overview, Unicef’s compares 29 of the world’s most advanced economies. Unicef uses the following components and indicators to establish child unhealthy and risky behaviours:


In the Unicef’s league table of countries for unhealthy and risky behaviours the higher up the table a country is the smaller the proportion of their children and young people are engaging in the unhealthy and risky behaviours outlined in the table above. The UK ranks 15th out of the 29 countries, therefore it has a slightly higher than average proportion of children and young people engaging in these unhealthy and risky behaviours. Out of the 29 countries, the Netherlands, Denmark and Iceland have the lowest proportion of children and young people engaging in these unhealthy and risky behaviours, and Romania, Latvia and Lithuania have the highest.

It is important to note that one of the limitations of these league tables is that internationally comparable data on children’s lives is not sufficiently timely. Between the collection of data in a wide variety of different settings and their publication in quality-controlled, internationally comparable form, the time-lag is typically two to three years. This means that most of the statistics on child well-being used in this report, though based on the latest available data, apply to the period 2009–2010.


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