Self-protection through healthy lifestyle choices

Date of Completion

January 2002


Economics, General




Self-protection occurs whenever individuals undertake activities to reduce the probability of loss or illness. This dissertation focuses on self-protection through healthy lifestyle activities. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (NHANES III), I empirically analyze the self-protective responses of individuals to three specific health risks. ^ The first case considered here is the hereditary risk for heart disease. Individuals can reduce heart disease risk by exercising, consuming a healthy diet, and/or taking risk-reducing prescription medications. I find that, for all age groups, facing a family history of heart disease encourages self-protection through medication use only. Additionally, I find some evidence that older individuals with a hereditary risk of heart disease are more likely to self-protect through diet and exercise than are younger individuals. ^ The second health risk that this dissertation addresses is the hereditary risk for diabetes. Again individuals can self-protect and reduce this risk through dietary and exercise efforts. Overall the results provide no support for the hypothesis that individuals self-protect through healthy lifestyle choices like diet and exercise to compensate for the unavoidable health risks they face. Specifically I find that having a family history of diabetes reduces self-protective efforts through exercise and overall dietary quality. ^ The third case under consideration is whether individuals try to improve their general health in response to their consumption of risky products like alcoholic beverages and tobacco. The empirical analysis focuses on self-protection through exercise habits, overall dietary quality, and the use of multivitamin tablets. My results indicate that cigarette smoking is negatively and significantly related to all three forms of self-protection. Alcohol consumption, on the other hand, is positively and significantly related to healthy exercise habits. This positive result does not hold for either dietary quality or multivitamin use. Although this analysis suffers from endogeneity problems that could not be corrected because of insufficiencies in the available data, it does provide interesting descriptive analysis of the issue at hand. ^ Overall, the results of this analysis offer little support for the hypothesis that individuals self-protect through healthy lifestyle activities in response to the specific health risks that they face. ^