, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 104-113
Date: 05 Feb 2013

Longitudinal associations between health behaviors and mental health in low-income adults

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ABSTRACT

Although there are established relationships between physical and mental health, few studies have explored the relationship between health behaviors and mental health over time. To explore rates of health-compromising behaviors (HCBs) and the longitudinal relationship between HCBs and depression, anxiety, and stress, five waves of data were collected over 1 year from 482 patients at an urban public health clinic (47 % female, 68 % African-American, M age = 28). Smoking (61 %), binge drinking (52 %), illegal drug use (53 %), unprotected sex with non-primary partners (55 %), and fast food consumption (71 %) were common, while consumption of fruits or vegetables (30 %) and breakfast (17 %) were rare. Cross-lagged models identified within-time associations between HCBs and depression/anxiety and stress. Additionally, depression/anxiety and stress predicted later HCBs, but HCBs did not predict later mental health. Results suggest that targeting mental health may be important to promoting improvements across multiple health behaviors.

Implications

Practice: To improve health behaviors and physical health, clinicians and practitioners should assess mental health and perceived stress and provide referrals for mental health counseling or stress reduction techniques when indicated.
Policy: Policymakers should consider the role that access to mental health services might play in addressing health behaviors.
Research: Mental health intervention studies should assess changes in health-compromising behaviors as outcomes.