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Study objectives: The factors underlying socioeconomic status differences in smoking, leisure time physical activity, and dietary choice are poorly understood. This study investigated attitudes and beliefs that might underlie behavioural choices, including health locus of control, future salience, subjective life expectancy, and health consciousness, in a nationally representative sample.
Design: Data were collected as part of the monthly Omnibus survey of the Office of National Statistics in Britain.
Participants: A stratified, probability sample of 2728 households was selected by random sampling of addresses. One adult from each household was interviewed.
Main results: Higher SES respondents were less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise and eat fruit and vegetables daily. Lower SES was associated with less health consciousness (thinking about things to do to keep healthy), stronger beliefs in the influence of chance on health, less thinking about the future, and lower life expectancies. These attitudinal factors were in turn associated with unhealthy behavioural choices, independently of age, sex, and self rated health.
Conclusions: Socioeconomic differences in healthy lifestyles are associated with differences in attitudes to health that may themselves arise through variations in life opportunities and exposure to material hardship and ill health over the life course.