Climate change : is it time to update the definition of health behaviour ?

I am working on health behaviour change since 12 years, I am member of two academic societies where most of the people examine one or several health behaviour(s). However, this concept was not clear for me, and health behaviour concept is rarely clearly defined and updated.

Initially, psychology textbooks present a behaviour as “an activity of an organism that can be observed by another organism or by an experimenter’s instruments” (Atkinson et al. 1987). For our review about climate change and health behaviours, we examined the different health behaviour approaches. Each definition had its own limits and restrictions, and was hard to be operationalized. For instance:

  • Any activity undertaken by a person believing himself to be healthy for the purpose of preventing disease or detecting it at an asymptomatic stage’ (Kasl and Cobb 1966: 246).
  • overt behavioral patterns, actions and habits that relate to health maintenance, to health restoration and to health improvement’ (Gochman (1997).
  • activities that may help to prevent disease, detect disease and disability at an early stage, promote and enhance health, or protect from risk and injury” (Steptoe and Wardle, 2004, p. 25).




We thought that health behaviours deifinition should be revised in a planetary health perspective (i.e., ‘human health and human civilization depend on flourishing natural systems and the wise stewardship of those natural systems’ (Whitmee et al., 2015). Thus, we proposed an updated definition of health behaviour based on the Gochman’s definition: “health-related behaviors can be defined as actions and patterns of actions within a context that enable human choices that result in reduced or net-zero carbon, energy, water, and ecological footprint and (in)directly result in equitable improvement, restoration, and maintenance of health for every humans and other living beings’ health for current and future generations(Chevance et al. 2022).

An official adoption of this definition by academic or international organizations may have major consequences on teaching, research related activities, but also recommendations. For instance, car driving could be considered as an unhealthy behaviour.

  1. Atkinson, R. L., Atkinson, R. C., Smith, E. E., & Hilgard, E. R. (1987). Introduction to psychology (9th ed.). San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
  2. Chevance, G., et al. (2022). Thinking health-related behaviors in a climate change context : A narrative review. Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
  3. Conner & Norman (2005) Predicting Health Behaviour: Research and Practice with Social Cognition Models. Open University Press
  4. Kasl, S.V. and Cobb, S. (1966) Health behavior, illness behavior and sick role behavior, Archives of Environmental Health, 12, 246–66.
  5. Gochman, D.S. (ed.) (1997) Handbook of Health Behavior Research (Vols 1–4). New York: Plenum.
  6. Whitmee, S., et al. (2015). Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch : Report of The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health. The Lancet

Cite this blog post
Bernard Paquito (2024, May 17). Climate change : is it time to update the definition of health behaviour ? AVUER. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from

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