Behavior change and reducing health disparities

Prev Med. 2014 Nov:68:5-10. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.04.014. Epub 2014 Apr 26.


The mission of the National Institutes of Health,"... is science in pursuit of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability". A wide range of factors contribute to longer life and to less illness. Although estimates vary, most analyses suggest that only about 10% of the variation in health outcome is attributable to medical care. Further, medical care is most effective in addressing and preventing infectious disease and acute illnesses. Recent large randomized clinical trials often fail to demonstrate that medical care lengthens life expectancy. International comparisons suggest that life expectancy in the United States is increasing, but the rate of increase is falling behind that of other wealthy countries. Strategies for improving health outcomes include better dissemination and implementation of proven evidence-based interventions. Further, reduction of services that use resources but do not offer health benefits must be considered. The final section of this paper reviews evidence relevant to factors outside the health care system that may enhance life expectancy and reduce illness and the disability. The relationship between educational attainment and life expectancy is used as a case example. The potential of behavioral and social interventions for increasing life expectancy may be orders of magnitude greater than traditional medial interventions. However, considerably more research is necessary in order to provide persuasive evidence for the benefits of these programs.

Keywords: Behavioral; Educational attainment; Outcomes research; Social determinants of health.

MeSH terms

  • Developed Countries
  • Education
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy* / trends
  • Male
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • Primary Health Care
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • United States