Background: The increasing prevalence of chronic diseases and the growing understanding that lifestyle behaviour plays an essential role in improving overall health suggest a need for increased attention to lifestyle choices in the consulting room.This study aims to examine whether or not healthy and unhealthy lifestyle choices of patients are currently being discussed more often in primary care consultations than in former decades. Furthermore, we are interested in GPs' approach to lifestyle behaviour during consultations. Lastly, we examine whether lifestyle behaviour is discussed more with certain patients during consultations, depending on gender, age and educational background.
Method: We analysed video-recordings of medical consultations, collected between 1975 and 2008 in Dutch GP practices. Data were analysed using logistic regression.
Results: This study shows that discussion of smoking behaviour and physical activity has increased somewhat over time. A change in discussion of nutrition and alcohol is, however, less clear. Overall, alcohol use is the least discussed and physical activity the most discussed during consultations. GPs mainly refer to lifestyle when it is relevant to the patient's complaints (symptom approach). GPs' approach to lifestyle behaviour did not change over time. In general, lifestyle behaviour is discussed more with older, male patients (except for nutrition). GPs talk about lifestyle behaviour with patients from different educational backgrounds equally (except for physical activity).
Conclusion: In recent years there is greater awareness of a healthy lifestyle, which is reflected to a limited extent in this study. Still, lifestyle behaviour is discussed in only a minority of consultations. GPs do not refer to lifestyle behaviour as a routine procedure, i.e. do not include it in primary prevention. This highlights the importance of the introduction of prevention consultations, where GPs can discuss lifestyle issues with patients who do not (yet) have risk symptoms.