Merck Manual

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Examples of Risk Factors for Health Problems

Examples of Risk Factors for Health Problems


Risk Factors

Eating an unbalanced, unhealthy diet

A genetic makeup that makes a person more likely to develop a specific disease, such as heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes, mental health disorders, or substance abuse disorder

Stressful situations such as

  • A new job

  • Difficulty at work

  • Death of a loved one

  • Not getting sufficient sleep

  • Getting married or divorced

Sedentary lifestyle (not getting enough exercise)

Physical environment

Inability to maintain a safe environment, for example, by the following:

  • For all people: Not keeping firearms secured, not using bicycle helmets and seat belts, not having working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the home, and not having heating systems and fireplaces inspected and cleaned periodically

  • For children: Not using child safety seats, bicycle helmets, flame-retardant sleepwear, and window and chair guards; not assessing the home for leaded paint and removing if applicable; and not safely storing medications and toxic substances

  • For older adults: Not removing or correcting hazards that can cause falls (such as loose throw rugs and dim lighting)

Race and sex

Men: Higher risk of heart attack than women

Black men and women: Higher risk of high blood pressure than white men and women

Social environment

Neighborhood violence

Family violence

High-risk sexual behavior (such as having several partners or not using condoms)

Difficulty getting along with others

Structural racism

Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes

Chewing tobacco

Using illicit drugs

Misusing alcohol or prescription medications

Not having received all recommended vaccinations

Weight that is above what is recommended for height and sex, particularly by 20% or more

Work environment

Working with potential toxins (for example, asbestos or ionizing radiation), machinery, power tools, farm equipment, or other possibly dangerous objects