Common measures, better outcomes (COMBO): a field test of brief health behavior measures in primary care

Am J Prev Med. 2008 Nov;35(5 Suppl):S414-22. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2008.08.006.


Background: Primary care offices have been characterized as underutilized settings for routinely addressing health behaviors that contribute to premature death and unnecessary suffering. Practical tools are needed to routinely assess multiple health risk behaviors among diverse primary care patients. The performance of a brief set of behavioral measures used in primary care practice is reported here.

Methods: Between August 2005 and January 2007, 75 primary care practices assessed four health behaviors, using a 21-item patient self-report questionnaire for adults or a 16-item questionnaire for adolescents. Data were collected via telephone, paper, or electronic means, either with or without assistance. The performance of these measures was evaluated by describing risk-behavior prevalences, combinations of risk behaviors, and missing data.

Results: Of 227 adolescents and 5358 adults, most patients completed all of the survey questions. Two or more unhealthy behaviors were reported by 47.1% of adolescents and 69.2% of adults. Percentages of adults who completed all the survey items varied by health behavior: tobacco use, 98.5%; diet, 98.2%; physical activity, 96.2%; alcohol use, 85.1%. Missing data rates were higher for unassisted patient self-reporting.

Conclusions: A relatively brief set of health behavior measures was usable in a variety of primary care settings with adults and adolescents. The performance of these measures was uneven across behaviors and administration modes, but yielded estimates of unhealthy behaviors consistent overall with what would be expected based on published population estimates. Further work is needed on measures for alcohol use and physical activity to bring practical assessment tools for key health behaviors to routine primary care practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Exercise
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • United States