Open Access Open Badges Research article

Counseling on lifestyle habits in the United States and Sweden: a report comparing primary care health professionals’ perspectives on lifestyle counseling in terms of scope, importance and competence

Lars Weinehall1*, Helene Johansson1, Julie Sorensen2, Lars Jerdén13, John May2 and Paul Jenkins2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Epidemiology and Global Health, Umea University, S-901 87 Umeå, Sweden

2 Bassett Healthcare Network Research Institute, One Atwell Road, Cooperstown, NY 13326, USA

3 Dalarna County Council, Unit of Research and Development, Box 712, S-791 29 Falun, Sweden

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BMC Family Practice 2014, 15:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-83

Published: 3 May 2014



The role of primary care professionals in lifestyle counseling for smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and diet is receiving attention at the national level in many countries. The U. S. and Sweden are two countries currently establishing priorities in these areas. A previously existing international research collaboration provides a unique opportunity to study this issue.


Data from a national survey in Sweden and a study in rural Upstate New York were compared to contrast the perspectives, attitudes, and practice of primary care professionals in the two countries. Answers to four key questions on counseling for tobacco use, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and eating habits were compared.


The response rates were 71% (n = 180) and 89% (n = 86) in the Sweden and the U.S. respectively. U.S. professionals rated counseling "very important" significantly more frequently than Swedish professionals for tobacco (99% versus 92%, p < .0001), physical activity (90% versus 79%, p = .04), and eating habits (86% versus 69%, p = .003). U.S. professionals also reported giving "very much" counseling more frequently for these same three endpoints than did the Swedish professionals (tobacco 81% versus 38%, p < .0001, physical activity 64% versus 31%, p < .0001, eating 59% versus 34%, p = .0001). Swedish professionals also rated their level of expertise in providing counseling significantly lower than did their U.S. counterparts for all four endpoints. A higher percentage of U.S. professionals expressed a desire to increase levels of counseling "very much", but only significantly so for eating habits (42% versus 28%, p = .037).


The study demonstrates large differences between the extent that Swedish and American primary care professionals report being engaged in counseling on lifestyle issues, how important they perceive counseling to be, and what expertise they possess in this regard. Explanations might be found in inter-professional attitudes, the organization of healthcare, including the method of reimbursement, traditions of preventive healthcare, and cultural differences between the two countries. Further studies are needed to explore these questions, with the aim of facilitating improved lifestyle counseling in primary care.

Attitudes; Counseling; Guidelines; Health promotion; Life style; Prevention; Primary care; Sweden; USA