Health Change Behaviour: Do Partners Have Any Influence?

Research Paper Title

The Influence of Partner’s Behaviour on Health Behaviour Change: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.


Couples are highly concordant for unhealthy behaviours, and a change in one partner’s health behaviour is often associated with a change in the other partner’s behaviour. However, no studies have explicitly compared the influence of having a partner who takes up healthy behavior (eg, quits smoking) with one whose behavior is consistently healthy (eg, never smokes).


To examine the influence of partner’s behaviour on making positive health behaviour changes.

Design, Setting and Participants

The researchers used prospective data from married and cohabiting couples (n, 3722) participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a large population-based cohort of older adults (≥50 years). Studying men and women who had unhealthy behaviours in 3 domains at baseline (ie, smoking, physically inactive, or overweight/obese), they used logistic regression analysis to examine the influence of the partner’s behaviour in the same domain on the odds of positive health behaviour change over time.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Smoking cessation, increased physical activity, and 5% weight loss or greater.


Across all domains, the researchers found that when one partner changed to a healthier behaviour (newly healthy), the other partner was more likely to make a positive health behaviour change than if their partner remained unhealthy (smoking: men 48% vs 8%, adjusted odds ratio [OR], 11.82 [95% CI, 4.84-28.90]; women 50% vs 8%, OR, 11.23 [4.58-27.52]) (physical activity: men 67% vs 26%, OR, 5.28 [3.70-7.54]; women 66% vs 24%, OR, 5.36 [3.74-7.68]) (weight loss: men 26% vs 10%, OR, 3.05 [1.96-4.74]; women 36% vs 15%, OR, 3.08 [1.98-4.80]).

For smoking and physical activity, having a consistently healthy partner also predicted positive change, but for each domain, the odds were significantly higher in individuals with a newly healthy partner than those with a consistently healthy partner (smoking: men OR, 3.08 [1.43-6.62]; women OR, 5.45 [2.44-12.16]) (physical activity: men OR, 1.92 [1.37-2.70]; women OR, 1.84 [1.33-2.53]) (weight loss: men OR, 2.28 [1.36-3.84]; women OR, 2.86 [1.55-5.26]).

Conclusions and Relevance

Men and women are more likely to make a positive health behaviour change if their partner does too, and with a stronger effect than if the partner had been consistently healthy in that domain. Involving partners in behavior change interventions may therefore help improve outcomes.


Jackson, S.E., Steptoe, A. & Wardle, J. (2015) The Influence of Partner’s Behavior on Health Behavior Change: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA Internal Medicine. 175(3), pp.385-392. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7554.


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