From health behaviours to health practices: an introduction

Sociol Health Illn. 2014 Feb;36(2):157-62. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12140.


The concept of health behaviour has become ubiquitous in health-related research and intervention studies, as well as among policymakers. Developed from psychology, it is based on a number of key underlying assumptions that enable it to be integrated in an existing health research paradigm. However, by conceiving individual health behaviour as discrete, stable, homogeneous and measurable, many other aspects of health-related activities, in particular those relating to power and sociality, are excluded. As a consequence, any genuine contribution from medical sociology or related disciplines is, at best, limited. To counter this, it is proposed that reconceptualising what people do in terms of health practices, rather than health behaviour, captures the emergent and contingent properties of people's activities in particular situations. Rather than serving as a direct replacement term, and thus reproducing the same epistemological assumptions, it is argued that its very flexibility and capacity to articulate different theoretical orientations is likely to be its major strength.

Publication types

  • Introductory Journal Article

MeSH terms

  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Public Health Practice*