Examining Health Behaviors of Chronic Disease Caregivers in the U.S.

Published:September 24, 2021DOI:


      Many informal caregivers experience a significant caregiving burden, which may interfere with their health behaviors. Caregiver health behaviors may vary by disease context, but this has rarely been studied. This study compares the health behaviors of prevalent groups of chronic illness caregivers (i.e., dementia, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/emphysema, diabetes) with those of noncaregivers and examines whether caregiving intensity is associated with these behaviors.


      In 2021, using pooled cross-sectional 2015–2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, health behaviors (i.e., physical activity, diet, alcohol use, smoking, sleep, and influenza immunization) of caregivers of patients with dementia (n=5,525), cancer (n=4,246), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/emphysema (n=1,959), and diabetes (n=2,853) and noncaregivers (n=203,848) were compared. Relationships between caregiving intensity (e.g., hours, type of tasks) and caregiver health behaviors were examined. Regression analyses were used to compare groups.


      Compared with noncaregivers, caregiver groups were more likely to report engaging in both risky (i.e., smoking, shorter sleep duration) and health-promoting (i.e., physical activity, vegetable consumption, abstaining from heavy drinking) behaviors, whereas nonsignificant differences were observed for influenza immunization. Longer caregiving hours and providing help with personal care were associated with poorer health behaviors (e.g., shorter sleep duration). Few differences in health behaviors were observed between caregivers of patients with dementia and other caregiver groups.


      Results suggest that caregivers are more likely to engage in both risky and health-promoting behaviors than noncaregivers. Furthermore, findings suggest that greater caregiving responsibilities are associated with certain risky health behaviors. Findings support the development and implementation of strategies to improve caregivers’ health behaviors across disease contexts.
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