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Exploring health: is your lifestyle really to blame?
Exploring health: is your lifestyle really to blame?

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1 Understanding ‘lifestyles’

It is commonly known that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. But the health implications associated with other important ‘lifestyle factors’ can be under appreciated. In particular, that a lack of regular physical exercise is a major issue in the twenty-first century, with this being especially so for people living in high-income countries like the UK. That is because our lifestyles are increasingly sedentary, so much so that a prominent physician and Oxford University professor declared the following:

Described image
Figure 1 A standard office chair constructed of cigarettes.

Other ‘lifestyle factors’, such as our diet, also impact on our health. But what is meant by the term ‘lifestyle’? In the Oxford English Dictionary it is defined as:

A style or way of living (associated with an individual person, a society, etc.); esp. the characteristic manner in which a person lives (or chooses to live) his or her life.

(OED Online, 2009a)

Now, without giving it too much thought, take a moment to respond to the question in the activity below.

Activity 1 Is being overweight related to a person’s lifestyle?

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

In your opinion, to what extent is a person being overweight a result of their lifestyle? Click on the link below to go to the poll.

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


In this free course you will explore a range of factors associated with adults being overweight or obese (predominantly focusing on obesity), including a person’s lifestyle. When Level/Year 2 Open University students from the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care were asked to consider this question, more than two-thirds selected ‘Yes – a little (being overweight is somewhat to do with a person’s lifestyle)’. The results were as follows (from a group of 253 respondents):

  • A. Yes – entirely (being overweight is entirely related to a person’s lifestyle) = 13%
  • B. Yes – a little (being overweight is somewhat to do with a person’s lifestyle) = 68%
  • C. Neither yes nor no = 13%
  • D. No – a little (being overweight is mostly to do with factors other than a person’s lifestyle) = 6%
  • E. No – not at all (being overweight is entirely unrelated to a person’s lifestyle) = 0%