Probably never before have humans considered their lifestyle and those of their fellow human beings so much from the aspect of health as they do today. The deluge of health and nutrition guides is omnipresent and health aspects of lifestyle are becoming increasingly important in an aging society. The background to this development is the increasing spread of the knowledge that health is not only fate, but can also be influenced individually, so that today the individual is assigned responsibility for his or her health. However, this has only limited the effect of people living healthier lives. Body weight, for example, has increased significantly in the past decades,2000).

The article by “The dedicated engineer” deals with the five most discussed aspects of health behavior or health-related behavior. Diet, sport and exercise in everyday life, body weight, smoking behavior and alcohol consumption are all considered. Even if the relevance of these behaviors for health is well known, the respective health behavior is not only explained by a more or less pronounced motivation to live healthy. Diet results not only from the conflict between health motivation and the desire to eat, but also from other factors such as sociability, entertainment, the situational availability of food, an adjustment to the diet of partner and friends (Klein2011, P. 462) and much more play a role. The possibly low relevance of the health aspect to action applies even more to sporting activity: In addition to the motive of improving health and physical performance, other motives are also widespread: for example, enjoying exercise, realizing ideals of beauty and the desire to be sociable (skin and Emrich2011). Correspondingly, body weight, although of great importance for health, is influenced by all the comprehensive motives for eating and exercising – in particular also by the pursuit of physical attractiveness (see e.g. Klein2011). And finally, sociability, group membership and other motives also play an important role when smoking (especially when starting to smoke) and alcohol consumption (Franzkowiak1986).

In the five aspects of health behavior dealt with here, the focus is not only (or possibly not at all) on the level of health motivation – they are rather aspects of lifestyle whose relevance for health has been proven in numerous studies (see Sect.  2 ). The explanation of the trends and social differences in health-related behavior presented below is therefore not reduced to developments and social differences in health awareness.

Isn’t it an exaggeration to describe health behavior as a lifestyle? At least three characteristics of the health-related behavior discussed here justify speaking of lifestyle: First, there is a high individual stability of the respective health-related behavior (even sports activity hardly decreases in the course of life, Klein and Becker2008), although the opportunities and restrictions of behavior and possibly with them the behavior patterns change in the course of life, depending on the professional and family living conditions, the living situation and the everyday mobility requirements (small 2009).

Second, the health-related behavior mentioned above is often integrated into a more or less comprehensive overall context of behavior and behavior-related living conditions. Lunch together with colleagues often amounts to visiting the canteen. And a vegan lifestyle not only includes nutrition, but also the avoidance of other animal products, for example leather. Regular sporting activity also tends to be part of a more comprehensive lifestyle (Lüdtke2001), not least because the time and physical strain competes with other activities. And getting around by bike versus car has implications for clothing and much more.

Thirdly, what is often part of the definition of lifestyle, there is a cultural superstructure of convictions and evaluations of the respective overall context of behavior, which also includes behavior relevant to health. This becomes particularly clear with the example of a vegetarian and vegan diet. But also a Mediterranean diet and a preference for red wine tends to be paired with efforts to create a Mediterranean lifestyle or with holidays in Mediterranean regions. When it comes to sport, it is no different: For some, “sport is murder” and for others sport is the “norm and yardstick of meaningful everyday life” (Kashuba1989, Pp. 157, 160). And a larger body also fits or does not fit into a respective overall context of behaviors and beliefs. The same applies to alcohol and smoking.

The contribution consists of two parts. Cape. Sociology of health provides an overview of how diet, sport and exercise, body weight, smoking behavior and alcohol consumption influence health. For this purpose, current research results are summarized, which are not always in line with everyday knowledge. Cape. Inequality and health describes the trends and social differences in the health-related aspects of lifestyle mentioned. In the present article, the differences in health behavior according to the partnership-based way of life and social class are highlighted. Cape. Social action and health summarizes the results and draws conclusions for health promotion.

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