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Health Risk Behaviors

Variable Definitions:

Binge Drinking: The percentage of adults who report having five or more drinks (men) or four or more drinks (women) on an occasion in the past 30 days

Current Smoking: The percentage of adults who report having smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and currently smoke every day or some days

No Leisure-Time Physical Activity: The percentage of adults who did not participate in any physical activities or exercises other than their regular job during the past month

For more information on the CDC’s PLACES initiative and their methodology, visit the CDC PLACES homepage.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Division of Population Health PLACES Initiative

Years Available:

2018, 2019, 2020

Why are these variables important to measure?

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is considered the most common and costly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. and is associated with a high incidence of serious injuries and diseases (CDC, 2024). A recent study has also shown that adults drinking as few as seven to 14 drinks per week could expect a six-month shorter lifespan on average as of age 40 (Shmerling, 2020; Wood et al., 2018). Studies have shown that increased accessibility to alcohol is associated with higher alcohol consumption and public health risks such as underage drinking, intimate partner and gender-based violence, and overall crime (Lee et al., 2020). 

As a result of discriminatory urban land use policies in the 1930s, also known as “redlining,” low-income communities of color see an overconcentration of liquor stores in their neighborhoods. Redlining created certain zones that segregated high-income white communities from low-income non-white communities and even businesses, including alcohol retailers (Lee et al., 2020). This explains why there is an abundance of liquor stores in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods in Los Angeles, especially South Los Angeles. Decades of economic disinvestment in neighborhoods like South Los Angeles made it difficult to attract other retail developers and small businesses, further contributing to the overconcentration of liquor stores in these areas (Mitchell, 2020). Increased liquor store access in these areas could increase binge drinking risks for these communities.

Current Smoking

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States (Fast Facts, 2023). Smoking is known to increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, multiple types of cancer, and chronic lung disease (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Despite the state of California implementing significant anti-smoking policies over the past several decades and LA County having some of the lowest smoking rates of large urban counties in the United States (Cui et al., 2012), there are still significant disparities in smoking prevalence.

Lower-income communities in Los Angeles are also subject to a significantly higher density of tobacco retailers than higher-income neighborhoods (Tobacco Retailer Density, 2020). 2019 data from the ASPiRE Center shows that Los Angeles has 3,759 tobacco retailers, 68.7% of which are within 500 feet of another tobacco retailer. This data also showed that 73.2% of public schools in Los Angeles were within 1,000 feet of a tobacco retailer (Tobacco Retailer Density, 2020). Additionally, data suggests that environmental factors like exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to anti-smoking information, and parents’ and peers’ smoking status may influence adolescent cigarette smoking (Liang et al., 2022). The large presence of tobacco retailers and the increased risk of exposure to secondhand smoke may place lower-income communities at a higher risk of negative health impacts from smoking.

No Leisure-Time Physical Activity

The CDC notes that physical activity for adults and lower adults can lower the risk for early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, falls, and depression (CDC, 2021). According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (2016), people who live close to park and recreation facilities often have lower rates of obesity and engage in more physical activity than those who do not. Each year, the Trust for Public Land gives the 100 largest cities in the U.S. a “park score” based on park acres, facilities and investment, and resident access to local parks. (Learn more about the index here.) Los Angeles has a park score of just 41 out of 100, ranking 74th out of 100 cities. This reduced access to park space in Los Angeles that also varies across income distribution and demographic characteristics could contribute significantly to disparities and high levels of no leisure-time physical activity. Leisure-time physical activity is also different from occupational-time physical activity and, in fact, evidence shows that making great work effort negatively influences the performance of physical activities of leisure. Occupational-time physical activity also increases the risk of absenteeism from work due to illness while leisure-time physical activity decreases it (de-Pedro-Jiminez et al.,2021; Kerner et al., 2017).

Written by Dan Hoornbeek


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2024, February 29). Binge drinking. Link.

Lee, J.P., et al. (2020). What explains the concentration of off-premise alcohol outlets in Black neighborhoods? SSM Population Health, 12, n.p. Link.

Mitchell, M. (2020, December 8). Liquor stores, dispensaries, and smoke shops: Our neighborhood is killing us. KCET. Link.

Shmerling, MD, Robert H. (2020) Sorting out the health effects of alcohol, Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School. Link.

Wood, A. et al. (2018) Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: Combined analysis of Individual Participant Data for 599 912 Current Drinkers in 83 Prospective Studies, The Lancet, Vol. 391, Issue 10129. Link.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023, November 2). Fast facts and fact sheets. Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022a, Sepember 14). Preventing Exposure to Secondhand Smoke in the Community. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Cui, Y. et al. (June, 2012). Small area estimates reveal high cigarette smoking prevalence in low-income cities of Los Angeles County, Journal of Urban Health : Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. Vol. 89(3). Link.

Liang YC, et al. (March, 2022). Influence of Personal, Environmental, and Community Factors on Cigarette Smoking in Adolescents: A Population-Based Study from Taiwan. Healthcare (Basel). Vol. 10(3). Link.

Tobacco Retailer Density Fact Sheet for Los Angeles, CA (May, 2020), Advancing Science & Practice in the Retail Environment (ASPIRE, aspirecenter.org), funded by the National Cancer Institute #P01-CA225597. Link

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010). How tobacco smoke causes disease; the biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease : a report of the Surgeon General. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, October 20). Health risk behaviors measure definitions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

de-Pedro-Jimenez, Domingo, Meneses-Monroy, Alfonso, de Diego-Cordero, Rocio (2021). Occupational and Leisure-Time Physical Activity Related to Job Stress and Job Satisfaction: Correspondence Analysis on a Population-Based Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(21). Link.

Kerner, I., Rakovac, M. and Lazinica, B. (2017) Leisure-time physical activity and absenteeism, Archives of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology. Link.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. (May 2016). Parks and Public Health in Los Angeles County: A Cities and Communities Report. Link.

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