Stability and Change in Health Behavior Profiles of U.S. Adults


While understanding of complex within-person clustering of health behaviors into meaningful profiles of risk is growing, we still know little about whether and how U.S. adults transition from one profile to another as they age. This study assesses patterns of stability and change in profiles of tobacco and alcohol use and body mass index (BMI).


A nationally representative cohort of U.S. adults 25 years and older was interviewed up to 5 times between 1986 and 2011. Latent transition analysis (LTA) models characterized the most common profiles, patterning of transitions across profiles over follow-up, and assessed whether some were associated with higher mortality risk.


We identified 5 profiles: “health promoting” with normal BMI and moderate alcohol consumption; “overweight”; “current smokers”; “obese”; and “nondrinkers”. Profile membership was largely stable, with the most common transitions to death or weight gain. “Obese” was the most stable profile, while “smokers” were most likely to transition to another profile. Mortality was most frequent in the “obese” and “nondrinker” profiles.


Stability was more common than transition, suggesting that adults sort into health behavior profiles relatively early. Women and men were differently distributed across profiles at baseline, but showed broad similarity in transitions.