OBJECTIVE: To analyze factors that adults and elderly individuals regard as the most important for health maintenance. METHODS: A cross-sectional study performed with 4,060 adults and 4,003 elderly individuals in areas covered by 240 primary health units in the Brazilian Southern and Northeastern regions, in 2005. A card with pictures and sentences about seven factors associated with the risk of non-communicable diseases and health problems was shown to individuals so they should point out the most relevant factor for health. These factors were as follows: to maintain a healthy diet, to exercise regularly, to avoid excessive drinking, to have regular medical check-ups, not to smoke, to maintain the ideal weight, and to control or avoid stress. Adjusted analysis was carried out by Poisson regression, with calculations of adjusted prevalence ratios, respective 95% confidence intervals and significance values, using Wald tests for heterogeneity and linear trend. RESULTS: Factors most frequently indicated by adults were the following: to maintain a healthy diet (33.8%), to exercise regularly (21.4%) and not to smoke (13.9%). Among the elderly, factors most frequently reported were: to maintain a healthy diet (36.7%), not to smoke (17.7%) and to have regular medical check-ups (14.2%). Differences among factors mentioned were observed, according to geographical region, and demographic, socioeconomic and health variables. CONCLUSIONS: The majority of adults and elderly individuals of both regions recognize and indicate the need to maintain a healthy diet and not to smoke as the most important health maintenance measures. Health education strategies should consider these characteristics to promote specific measures to be adopted for each population segment.
Adult; Aged; Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice; Life Style; Risk Factors; Chronic Disease; Cross-Sectional Studies