A population-based study of age and gender differences in patterns of health-related behaviors

Am J Prev Med. 1999 Jul;17(1):8-17. doi: 10.1016/s0749-3797(99)00040-9.


Purpose: Most research on preventive health behaviors has focused on individual rather than groups of behaviors. This study examined interrelationships among multiple preventive health behaviors in different age and gender groups.

Methods: From 1990 to 1992, Maryland residents were surveyed by telephone through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The study sample of 4455 was divided into 8 groups based on age (18-24, 25-39, 40-54, and 55+) and gender. Correlation and oblique rotated factor analyses were used to examine patterns of 8 to 11 preventive health behaviors in each age-gender group.

Results: Medical checkup and cholesterol test formed one behavioral cluster in the four male age groups. Breast and cervical cancer screening (mammogram, clinical breast examination [CBE], and Pap Smear) did not form one cluster until age 55 or older; Pap smear, CBE formed one cluster for women of all ages. Risk-taking behaviors were only prominent in the youngest age group: Seatbelt non-use, smoking, and drinking formed one cluster in younger males, and drinking and driving after drinking clustered in younger females.

Conclusion: Screening and risk-taking behaviors form distinct groups, and behavioral patterns differ by age and gender. Public health programs should consider multi-behavioral approaches, and be sensitive to the gender and age of the target population.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Diet
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Factors*