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Research Summary

Are Physicians Screening for Multiple Behavioral Risk Behaviors?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that primary care physicians screen all their patients for many health risk behaviors, including risky drinking. To ascertain the prevalence of 4 risk factors (i.e., physical inactivity, overweight, cigarette smoking, and risky drinking) and physicians' screening for related risk behaviors, researchers analyzed data from the 1998 National Health Interview Survey of 16,818 adults who had a routine checkup in the past year.

  • Most (52%) of the respondents reported having >1 risk factor; 70% reported physical inactivity, 55% overweight, 20% smoking, and 8% risky drinking (average weekly consumption of >14 drinks for men and >9 drinks for women, or >=5 drinks in 1 day on 12 or more occasions).
  • Twenty-nine percent reported receiving no screening in the past year, 12% reported being screened for 1 risk behavior, and 59% reported being screened for >=2 risk behaviors. Those who were screened were more likely to be asked about physical activity (54%) and tobacco use (53%) than about diet (48%) or alcohol use (45%).
  • Women, the elderly, and those with lower levels of income and education reported being screened for fewer of their risk behaviors.


Screening for multiple risk behaviors in primary care should become the norm. The authors accurately conclude, however, that while primary care physicians can perform such screening, systems are required to support this and other efforts to accomplish effective health behavior change.

Jeffrey H. Samet, MD, MA, MPH


Coups EJ, Gaba A, Orleans T. Physician screening for multiple behavioral health risk factors. Am J Prev Med. 2004;27(2S):34–41.
(view abstract)