Background: Individuals who have multiple poor health behaviors account for a disproportionately large percentage of the preventable U.S. health care cost burden. Understanding the relationships between multiple risk factors is important for the design of both individual and public health interventions. There have been few efforts to examine the co-occurrence of psychosocial and motivational mechanisms that mediate smoking, dietary fat intake, and physical activity in a defined population of blue collar workers.
Methods: The sample comprised 1,559 manufacturing workers who participated in a self-help physical activity intervention and who completed a computerized assessment battery about their smoking, dietary fat intake, physical activity, and demographic characteristics.
Results: Twenty-six percent of the sample were smokers, 51% did not exercise regularly, and 35% consumed more than an estimated 40% of calories per day from fat. Almost half of the sample was in the later stages of readiness for physical activity and dietary fat intake, compared with only 3% for smoking. Only 12% of the smokers had smoking as their only risk factor. Smokers were significantly more likely to engage in poor dietary and physical activity behaviors, compared with nonsmokers. The relationship among smoking status and the other risk factors was apparent both in terms of dietary fat and physical activity behaviors, as well as mediators such as motivation for change. Lower dietary fat intake was associated with an absence of the other two risk factors.
Conclusions: The results suggest that there are important mediating mechanisms both within and among workers with one or more risk factors. Smokers are a particularly important target for health promotion interventions, and it may be possible to make initial contact with them through other health programs at the worksite. The role of other lifestyle changes as a gateway to smoking cessation has not yet been explored, but may have potential for reaching smokers who are very low in their motivational readiness to change. The implications of these findings for research and the design of multiple risk factor interventions are discussed.