Population Behavior and Public Health

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 Introduction

Behavior plays a major role in determining the health of a person or a population. Unhealthy behaviors and lifestyles such as smoking, drinking and diet may provide a useful insight into rampant chronic disease development in a particular community. Moreover, human’s social nature may also influence their behavior into engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as unsafe sex and injections which may cause transmission of infectious diseases. The complexity of human behavior is attributed to some factors such as environmental and social factors and thus the populations need to be sensitized on the dangers of engaging in risk behaviors (Gostin & Fund, 2002).

Mass communication programs also play a role in inducing a shift of an individuals or public’s behavior from bad to worse. This can be through business promotions and advertisement of illicit drugs like tobacco and alcohol. This leads to uninformed decision making by many people thus engaging in unhealthy behavior. On the contrary, the media can play a role in promoting health behavior by limiting certain information in the industry and providing information that is conducive to the health of the public. Health-promotion activities are increasingly becoming important and in order to reach the grassroots, community participation needs to be encouraged (Gostin & Fund, 2002).

A change in human’s behavior attributed to their social environment could be the reason for patterned distribution of diseases in a population which is maintained even when an individual in the population changes. Therefore, according to the public health, it would be more appropriate to change the social environment than to change the population’s behavior one by one. Demographic factors such as race, religion, gender, marital status among others have also been found to influence health. Studies carried out in the United States show that married couples tend to be much healthier that the unmarried and women tend to live longer than their male counterparts (Schneider, 2010).

Likewise, the population should be encouraged to participate in activities that promote their health as seen in Californians who engage in community based disease prevention programs. They do this by engaging themselves in various activities such as community sidewalks, encouraging school athletic activities, availing fresh fruits and vegetables to communities where supermarkets are few or not there and implementing laws and policies that forbid smoking in public places. These programs have proved to be very effective as health within the community has greatly improved (Okey, 2011).

Theories and Models for health behavior

It is important for public health practitioners to understand the processes of program models and theories for intervention purposes. Human behavior theories and models aid in the development of health promotion efforts and positive behavior change.  Such models and theories include the following:

Health belief Model

It is a psychological model which acts as a point of reference to understanding a person’s change in behavior. Different individual actions vary and health belief mode attempts to predict the change in behavior of an individual when faced by a health problem. It does this by looking at some factors which include, the extent of vulnerability to the threat as perceived by the individual, the perceived severity of the illness, the perceived benefits of taking a preventive measure and the perceived barriers from taking preventive measures to reduce the risk (Health Behavior Theories, 2009).

Trans-theoretical model

It is a model which envisions behavioral change as a process involving five stages; the pre-contemplation stage where the individual has a problem and has no intention of changing it, the contemplation stage where the individual is aware of the dangers of the problem but has not yet taken action because of barriers to change, the preparation stage where the individual has made a decision to change and efforts of taking action are seen, the action stage where the individual has changed and is seen abstaining from bad behaviors such as smoking, and finally the  maintenance stage where the individual has successfully changed to a health behavior and must struggle to avoid recurrence (Schneider, 2010).

Social cognitive theory

It explains human behavior change as being affected by the environment, behavior and personal factors. Each or either of the other two factors may influence an individual’s behavior and suggests that, that behavior is largely regulated in the mind of the individual. Therefore, by forming expectations, an individual is able to predict the outcome of a behavior before it is performed. It is through these cognitive processes that an individual’s behavior is able to be predicted and changed (Health Behavior Theories, 2009).

Ecological model

This puts emphasis on the fact that the social, cultural and physical environment affects the way humans behave. Several factors that influence human behavior has been described by this model and they include; intrapersonal factors, interpersonal factors, institutional factors, community factors, group factors and public policy (Grizzel, 2007).

Theory of planned behavior

This theory is based on the basis that a person’s intention to perform a certain action determines their behavior. Personal attitude and personal social environment influence are two major factors that determine a person’s intention. This is compared to the concept of self-efficacy where the sense of one’s self confidence controls their behavior and this is seen as an aspect to change in behavior (Grizzel, 2007).

Learning theories

This theory stresses on gradually adapting to a new pattern of behavior and gradually abandoning previous sedentary lifestyle. In order to achieve this, an individual must have a goal; say engaging in physical activity every day by gradually increasing the time for exercise. This is repeatedly done each day until the target is reached and former behavior replaced or outcompeted. This theory normally has a reward in the end which motivates the individual (Grizzel, 2007).

Conclusion

It is essential to plan future health services, and in order to do this, preventive measures must be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the present public health problems is a reflection of the past risk behaviors. In order to safeguard the future population, current behaviors must be rectified to fit into the required health standards as the future largely depends on the current exposures. In addition constant surveillance of population must be carried out to detect health changes and similarities and this can be done through population census, surveys and vital registration. Provision of environmental education and community rural appraisal programs to the population are equally important.

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