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Are You A Multiple Health Behavior Change Researcher? The Answer Might Just Be Yes . . .

Marcella H. Boynton, PhD, Multiple Health Behavior Change SIG Co-chair

The Multiple Health Behavior Change Special Interest Group (MHBC SIG) recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary. Now that the MHBC SIG is officially over a decade old, it is worth re-examining some of the reasons why we exist, how your work might well fit the definition of multiple health behavior change research, and the unique advantages proffered by MHBC SIG membership.

First, the MHBC SIG emphasizes that health behaviors are not orthogonal. For instance, not only do physical activity, healthy nutrition, and lower levels of risky decision-making tend to cluster together, but their unhealthy counterparts of poor nutrition, sedentary behavior, smoking, and substance use are also correlated. Some may think that targeting multiple behaviors is too complex, but research in multiple behavior change is uncovering ways in which multiple health behavior change interventions can be optimally designed for maximum effect. In addition, the simple observation that health behaviors tend to co-occur has an important implication: the underlying processes that drive health decision-making, such as self-efficacy, social norms, stress/coping processes, genetics, lack of health education, etc. have consequences for multiple health domains. In fact, numerous studies have found that health interventions aimed at addressing one health behavior frequently improve associated health behaviors not explicitly targeted by the original intervention. Effective behavioral health interventions, therefore, can and should help people target multiple areas in their lives. If you study multiple health behaviors, see patients with multiple risky behaviors, or examine factors that could apply to multiple health behaviors, then you should consider joining the MHBC SIG.

Second, the MHBC SIG recognizes the inherent synergistic benefit of interdisciplinary collaboration. Historically the medical model of psychology and health has generally been pathology-oriented, which means that many clinicians and health researchers define themselves by the health disorder that they are trying to understand and ultimately ameliorate. The MHBC SIG is different in that it emphasizes the interrelated nature of multiple health behaviors and outcomes through their common underlying mechanisms. This approach to health research is inherently interdisciplinary both because multiple health behaviors and outcomes are often examined using a unified theoretical context and because multiple underlying causes are frequently explored. Uri Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory, and many similar multilevel, multi-process, or multi-stage theoretical frameworks exemplify the type of unified approach the MHBC SIG fosters. For those of you interested in interdisciplinary health research or who employ integrative theoretical frameworks in your work, you would likely find great value in MHBC SIG membership.

Finally, the complex nature of multiple health behavior research frequently requires the development and application of sophisticated research and quantitative methodologies, which not only benefits multiple health behavior research but also advances the field of behavioral medicine as a whole. The MHBC SIG not only welcomes researchers who focus on multiple health behaviors, but also those who develop and utilize innovative methods that can be applied to multiple health behaviors.

If you are a current member of the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM), MHBC SIG membership is free and offers several benefits. The MHBC SIG listserv offers timely announcements and information relevant to its members. Also, the MHBC SIG typically sponsors multiple symposia and meetings for the SBM Annual Meeting. For example, at last year's meeting we highlighted the interdisciplinary focus of the MHBC SIG by co-sponsoring a symposium examining the use of emergent technologies to examine multiple health behaviors in racial/ethnic minority groups. We also sponsored a fast-paced datablitz session that featured a wide range of MHBC student research. With these benefits in mind, we cordially invite you to submit your name for MHBC SIG membership! To join the MHBC SIG, please contact SBM Program Manager Benjamin Stumpf: bstumpf@sbm.org.