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A snapshot of people's knowledge, attitude and behaviour towards smoking and drinking, physical activity, nutrition...
A snapshot of people's knowledge, attitude and behaviour towards smoking and drinking, physical activity, nutrition, drug use, sexual health, behaviour in the sun, general health and doctor consultations is revealed in a survey published this week.

The report is the second in a series of annual studies monitoring trends in the health-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of adults carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on behalf of the Health Education Authority. Findings include:

-- Thirty-one per cent of men and 29 per cent of women were current cigarette smokers. The mean number of cigarettes smoked per day was 12.9 for women and 15.3 for men - no change from 1995.

-- Almost two-thirds of current smokers would like to give up. As in 1995, smokers aged 25-44 and those who smoked 10 or more cigarettes a day were most likely to want to quit.

-- Alcohol consumption for both men and women was higher in the 16-24 age-group than it was in other age-groups; the mean consumption in this age-group was 22.4 units a week for men and 14.4 for women.

-- A quarter of respondents said that physical activity should be undertaken for at least 30 minutes on at least five days a week (the recommended guidelines for frequency and duration).

-- A quarter of respondents were classed as sedentary; that is, they participated less than once a week in 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise (for example, brisk or fast walking, heavy housework or gardening). Lack of time was the most common reason cited by people when they were asked what stopped them exercising more.

-- Thirty-eight per cent of adults aged 16-74 reported eating bread; fruit, vegetables or salad; and potatoes, rice or pasta every day.

-- When asked about their attitudes to diet, 32 per cent of people said they were confused about 'what is supposed to be healthy and what isn't'. Older men were the most likely to say they were confused.

-- Thirty-two per cent of respondents aged 16-54 said they had at some time used drugs which were not prescribed by a doctor. Fourteen per cent had done so in the past year and nine per cent in the past month. Drug use was most likely to be reported by those aged 19-21, 74 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women in this group said they had at some time tried a drug.

-- Of the people who reported using a drug in the past month, 18 per cent said they intended to Stop in the next month. Ten per cent said they did not see the need ever to stop taking drugs.

-- More than a third of men and more than a quarter of women aged 16-24 reported more than one sexual partner in the 12 months before the interview, compared with six per cent of men and three per cent of women in the 45-54 age group.

-- When asked whether they would use a condom with a new partner, 67 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men said that they would always do so, while 17 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men said it would 'depend'. Only one per cent of people said that they would never use a condom. These findings do not differ significantly from those recorded in 1995.

-- New questions asked in 1996 revealed that 49 per cent of women agreed that 'having a suntan makes me feel healthier' and 'having a suntan makes me look more attactive'. Around 40 per cent of men agreed with both statements. However, the proportion of people who thought a suntan was important decreased slightly between 1995 and 1996, from 28 per cent to 25 per cent.

-- Twenty-nine per cent of men said they had been sunburnt in the last 12 months, compared with 23 per cent of women. The prevalence of sunburn decreased with age from 41 per cent of those aged 16-24 to only 8 per cent of those aged 65-74.

-- Sixty-nine per cent of women and 62 per cent of men reported that they had experienced a 'moderate' or 'large' amount of stress in the 12 months before the interview. Over two fifths of all men and more than half of all women felt that stress had had a harmful effect on their health.


1. The Health Education Monitoring Survey (HEMS) was carried out by the Social Survey Division of ONS for the Health Education Authority (HEA). A summary of the report has been issued in the form of a booklet.

2. The HEMS was established to monitor a series of health promotion indicators to look at knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, developed by the HEA to measure its contribution to achieving Health of the Nation targets. The 1995 HEMS survey collected baseline data against which future change could be measured; the 1996 survey is the first to monitor change. The 1995 survey showed that there were high levels of knowledge of ways of avoiding skin cancer, which foods contained saturated fats and the causes of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. These questions were omitted from the 1996 survey as it was not felt necessary to ask them every year.

3. New questions were added to the 1996 interview on attitudes to use of drugs, having a suntan, respondents' assessment of the effect of stress on their health, and attitudes towards children's smoking.

4. The survey was carried out in summer 1996. All the people interviewed were adults aged 16-74 living in private households in England. Respondents will be interviewed for a second time in 1997, to monitor any changes in behaviour between the two years.

-- Health in England 1996 What people know, what people think, what people do The Stationery Office£30.00. ISBN 0 11 691702 4.

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