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Multiple risk behaviours among parents with dependent children

This project led by Professor Hilary Graham, focused on cigarette smoking, diet, physical activity and alcohol consumption among parents living with children.

Over 40% of the population lives in a household with dependent children and the UK’s families are at heightened risk of social disadvantage.

Everyday habits like smoking, physical inactivity and alcohol consumption are major causes of ill-health, and unhealthy lifestyles are implicated in the chronic diseases responsible for over 70% of premature deaths. Until recently, these lifestyle factors have typically been investigated and tackled in isolation. For example, researchers have looked separately at smoking, diet, physical activity or alcohol consumption; similarly, different policies focus on reducing smoking, encouraging sensible drinking, improving diet and increasing physical activity.

However, people who smoke, have an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and drink heavily do not form distinct groups. Instead the groups overlap. Over two-thirds of the adult population have two or more lifestyle factors that can damage their health and the limited evidence suggests that the clustering of lifestyle factors is linked to social disadvantage. This means people in advantaged circumstances are more likely to have uniformly healthy lifestyles (no risk behaviours) while people in poorer circumstances are more likely to engage in multiple risk behaviours.

The project undertook secondary analyses of two premier UK datasets. We analysed data from the Health Survey for England (HSE) and Understanding Society, the UK’s new household survey. The HSE has detailed information on cigarette smoking, diet, physical activity and alcohol consumption, while Understanding Society is collecting the most extensive information on people’s social background and identity of any national study. Using these two surveys, we investigated:

  • the health behaviours of parents and children, including the clustering of health behaviours among mothers and fathers/partners
  • the social patterning of multiple unhealthy behaviours among mothers and fathers/partners
  • associations in health behaviours within households (between parents and children)

The final report of the project is available here. Research papers from the project are listed in Hilary Graham's publication page


Funder(s): Department of Health 
Start Date: 01-Sep-2011
End Date: 31-March-2015


Internal Staff

External Collaborators


Public Health and Society Research in the Department of Health Sciences