Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eating and Physical activity: Planned or habitual behaviour?

Every morning I take my bike to work, where I eat my muesli breakfast while reading my email. No deliberations, cognitive efforts, or reasoned planning for me to engage in these behaviours; these are pure habits.
Behavioural nutrition and physical activity research and interventions have been strongly rooted in theoretical models that presume rational decision making and a certain level of planned health behaviour. In recent years health behaviour researchers more and more argue that such an approach is too limited. Behavioural nutrition and physical activity research more and more studies environmental factors in stead of cognitions as determinants of health behaviours. Such environmental cues, e.g. easy opportunities for healthful or unhealthy behaviours, may induce habitual responses. Habitual behaviour is characterised by three important feature: a history of repetition, automaticity (expressed by uncontrollability, lack of awareness, and efficiency), and expressing identity.

Many physical activities, sedentary behaviors and dietary behaviors are typically routine behaviors. They are repeatedly performed and we may engage in them without much cognitive effort, just like my commuting and breakfast habits. As a result, the concept of habit is important in studying these behaviors, in addition to measures of behavioral frequency, duration and intensity. Two recent studies, first authored by Drs Gert-Jan de Bruijn and Stef Kremers, I was involved in provide further limited but intriguing early evidence to support the concept of habit as being important in dealing with physical activity and diet in children and adults.
Please see: