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Health-related locus of control and health behaviour among university students in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany

Stefanie M Helmer12, Alexander Krämer2 and Rafael T Mikolajczyk134*

Author Affiliations

1 Bremen Institute for Epidemiology and Prevention Research, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany

2 School of Public Health, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany

3 Department of Epidemiology, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Braunschweig, Germany

4 Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:703  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-703

Published: 29 December 2012



Health control beliefs were postulated to be associated with health behaviour. However, the results of studies assessing these associations suggest that they might not be universal. Among young adults associations have been reported, but the evidence is limited. The objective of this analysis was to re-examine these associations in a sample of university students in Germany.


Data from a multicentre cross-sectional study among university students in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany was used (N=3,306). The Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale with three dimensions (one internal and two external) and six aspects of health behaviour (smoking habits, alcohol use, drug consumption, being over-/ or underweight, physical activity, and importance of healthy nutrition) were evaluated. Students with stronger internal locus of control paid more attention to healthy nutrition and displayed a higher level of physical activity. Individuals with a stronger belief in health professionals were less likely to use drugs and paid more attention to healthy nutrition. Furthermore, higher scores in the second external locus of control dimension (beliefs in luck or chance) were associated with a higher likelihood of current smoking, lower physical activity and less attention to healthy nutrition.


Students engaged more strongly in unhealthy behaviour if they believed that luck determines health. In contrast, believing in having control over one’s own health was associated with more healthy behaviour. These findings support the need to consider health control beliefs while designing preventive strategies in this specific population.

Locus of control; Health behaviour; Students; Cross-National Student Health Study