OBJECTIVES Diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease are emerging threats to the health status in Saudi Arabia. These diseases are attributed largely to unhealthy dietary habits and lack of physical activity. Health education through primary health care (PHC) centers can play a significant role in changing behaviors and reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases. METHODS We present the results of analysis of a moderately large dataset on dietary practices, physical activity and exposure to health education among patients visiting the PHC centers in Qassim region of Saudi Arabia. We examined this cross-sectional data to identify the relationships between these three variables after controlling for the effects of age, sex, marital status, education and disease status. RESULTS Our results suggest that women, older people, divorced and widowed persons and those with low education are more likely to have poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity. Patients suffering from chronic illnesses are more likely to be exposed to health education from PHC centers, which help to significantly improve their dietary practices and, to some extent, increase physical activity at all ages. Our analysis indicates that health education provided through the PHC centers plays a modest but significant role in improving lifestyles and dietary practices. CONCLUSION We conclude that better emphasis on high quality health education would significantly reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases in our target population.