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Contact: Kathy Harben
CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease
Prevention and Health Promotion
(770) 488–5131
CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 639–3286

Fact Sheet: Differences Between Men and Women in Health Risk Factors, 1996 and 1997

The 1996 and 1997 data from CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a state-based telephone survey of U.S. adults 18 and older, show important differences between men and women in health risk behaviors, awareness of certain medical conditions, use of preventive health services, and access to health-care coverage.

Risk factors for chronic diseases

Approximately 53% of adults in the United States were overweight in 1996 and 1997; being overweight and lack of physical activity increase the risk for chronic health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking, is a major cause of illness and death in the United States. The percentage of adult Americans who smoke— approximately 25%—has been fairly consistent since 1991. Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of liver-related mortality in the United States and is associated with hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

Differences between men and women

  • Men were more likely than women to report being overweight (1996: 60.7% and 44.0%, respectively; 1997: 62.2% and 44.5%).
  • Women were more likely than men to report no leisure-time physical activity (1996: 30.8% and 26.0%).
  • Men were slightly more likely than women to report being current cigarette smokers (1996: 25.5% and 21.9%; 1997: 25.3% and 21.1%).
  • The smoking rate was slightly higher for young (age 18-29) men than women (1996 and 1997 combined data: 28.8% and 26.6%).
  • Men were almost seven times as likely as women to report chronic drinking (1997: 5.4% and 0.8%).
  • More than three times as many men as women reported binge drinking (1997: 22.3% and 6.7%).

Risk factors for personal injury

Safety belt use varied more than twofold among states. All of the states with the highest rates of safety belt use have laws allowing a law enforcement officer to stop someone not wearing a safety belt. Drinking and driving was relatively uncommon among American adults.

Differences between men and women

  • Women were more likely than men to report always wearing a safety belt (1997: 74.8% and 61.9%).
  • More than three times as many men as women reported drinking and driving (3.0% and 0.9%).

Screening for chronic diseases

An increased blood cholesterol level, specifically high LDL-cholesterol, increases risk for coronary heart disease. Cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke, are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. Colorectal cancer causes 10% of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Although colorectal cancer deaths can be prevented by screening, the number of adults who receive colorectal screening is low.

Differences between men and women

  • Women were more likely than men to report ever having their blood cholesterol checked (1997: 76.7% and 70.8%) and to have had it checked within the past 5 years (1997: 71.2% and 65.9%).
  • More men than women reported ever having a sigmoidoscopy or proctoscopy (1997: 45.3% and 37.7%) or having had one within the past 5 years (1997: 34.8% and 25.8%).
  • Women were slightly more likely than men to report having had a fecal occult blood test (1997: 19.5% and 16.8%).

Access to health care

Lack of health insurance and cost concerns are barriers to seeking medical treatment and obtaining preventive health services. People without health-care coverage are more likely than those who are insured to be in poor health and at increased risk for chronic diseases.

Differences between men and women

  • Men were slightly more likely than women to report having no health insurance (1997: 15.2% and 13.5%).
  • Women were more likely than men to report cost as a barrier to obtaining health care (1997: 13.4% and 9.1%).

Most of the risk behaviors associated with chronic diseases and injury can be changed through more effective state and local public health policies and programs, more encouragement from health practitioners for their patients to reduce harmful behaviors and adopt healthier ones, more counseling on preventive measures from public and private health care facilities and insurers, and more convenient ways to access preventive services. States can use these new data to develop and evaluate programs to reduce the health risks of all adults.

State- and Sex-Specific Prevalence of Selected Characteristics—Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 1996 and 1997, is available at

For information about CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, visit

For information about CDC’s Screen for Life Colorectal Cancer Prevention Campaign, visit

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This page last reviewed Friday, July 6, 2000

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention