A recent paper in Social Science and Medicine (Twigg et al. 50 (2000) 1109) outlined an approach to the estimation of prevalences of small-area health-related behaviour using multilevel models. This paper compares results from the application of the multilevel approach with those derived using the more traditional strategy of the local 'lifestyle' survey. Estimations of smoking prevalence and high alcohol consumption are examined and critical assessments made of both estimation approaches. It is concluded that the alternative method is more suited towards the prediction of smoking rates as opposed to unsafe alcohol consumption.