Health Behaviors in Integrated Primary Care

The term “behavioral health” often refers to “the connection between our behaviors and the health and well-being of the body, mind, and spirit” (1, para. 4). Health behaviors include such things as the eating and drinking habits and exercise that impact our physical and mental health instantly or over time. Integrated behavioral health and primary care addresses health behaviors and their contribution to chronic conditions. In the United States, the number of people with multiple chronic conditions, including mental health disorders, is increasing. Almost half of the population lives with at least one chronic disease (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes), and 7 out of 10 deaths occur because of these diseases. Moreover, chronic disease tends to co-occur with mental health conditions and “treatment of the mental illness can reduce the effects of these disorders” (2, para.5).

Integrated care settings have demonstrated “both clinical improvements and financial benefits” in the treatment of chronic conditions (3, p. 2).Primary care can help people with chronic illness “change behaviors in order to minimize the impact of their disease and maximize treatment protocol” (4, para. 3). Additionally, better attention to behavioral health needs while using integrated care “[leads] to lowered overall medical cost and to more cost-effective treatment when properly designed” (5, p. 292). And finally, integrated care can ultimately help to better understand disease comorbidities and risk factors.

This month, we observe National Heart Month and the National Eating Disorder Screening Program (22-28). Cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death in the United States, can improve with better nutrition, improved eating behaviors, and more physical activity that can be successfully initiated in primary care. For eating disorders, primary care also offers a prime setting for medical and psychosocial care and “treatment is most effective when it includes a multidisciplinary, team-based approach” (6, p. 46).

Throughout the month, take a look at our New & Notable stories for more on CVD, eating disorders, and health behaviors in integrated primary care.

Also, read our previous related articles:

And watch this AHRQ-animated video, “Multiple Chronic Conditions: A Day in the Life,” to see how integration can effectively treat multiple chronic conditions and make healthy behaviors more possible


  1. Boober BH. What is behavioral health, anyway? Maine Health Access Foundation. Accessed February 5, 2015.

  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Million hearts. SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions. Accessed February 5, 2015.

  3. Piane GM, Smith TC. Building an evidence base for the co-occurrence of chronic disease and psychiatric distress and impairment. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014 October;11:E188. PMID: 25340360

  4. American Psychological Association. Accessed February 5, 2015.

  5. Blount, A, Kathol, R, Thomas, M, et al. The economics of behavioral health services in medical settings: a summary of the evidence. Prof Psychol Res Pr. 2007 38(3):290-7.

  6. Harrington, BC, Jimerson M, Haxton C, et al. Initial evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Jan 1;91(1):46-52. PMID: 2559120

Posted February 2015