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Lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, and poor diet are well-known contributors to chronic medical conditions. Although many health guidelines stress the importance of clinicians encouraging lifestyle modifications, how effective such advice from general practitioners (GPs) in Australia is, and how often GPs deliver it, have not been well documented. A study using data from the 2020–21 National Health Survey aimed to fill this knowledge gap by examining the relationship between GP-provided lifestyle advice and subsequent changes in patient behaviour.

The study was a secondary analysis of the 2020–21 National Health Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which included a nationally representative sample of about 13,000 Australian adults. Participants reported on whether they received advice from their GPs in the past year on topics such as smoking cessation, moderate alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, and improving diet. Researchers used logistic regression analyses adjusted for sociodemographic and clinical factors to explore the association between receiving GP advice and behaviour changes in alcohol consumption, smoking, and diet.

The results revealed a small but significant proportion of participants recalling receiving lifestyle advice from their GPs. Specifically, eight per cent of those exceeding recommended alcohol limits, 27 per cent of smokers, and nine per cent of those with inadequate fruit and vegetable intake reported receiving relevant advice from their regular doctor. Notably, among those surveyed, 21 per cent of those advised on alcohol reduced their intake, 34 per cent of smokers reduced smoking levels, and 19 per cent improved their dietary habits. Statistically, those who received advice were more likely to alter their behaviours compared to those who did not.

The study shows the potential of GP-driven lifestyle advice in promoting healthier behaviours among Australians, though the lower percentage of patients receiving such advice highlights an opportunity for increased communication on these lifestyle factors. The findings suggest that while lifestyle advice from GPs can be effective, some patients may not be receiving the guidance they need to make healthful changes. What’s known from smoking cessation is that brief interventions from GPs works but only if the GP offers a strategy such as pointing to a Quitline for example. The authors suggest that supporting GPs by integrating these practices more deeply into routine care or through public health initiatives could be of benefit, and further training and resources for GPs could also bolster the delivery and impact of lifestyle counselling.


Further information

Lifestyle advice from general practitioners and changes in health‐related behaviour in Australia: secondary analysis of 2020–21 National Health Survey data: MJA

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