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Health Belief Model


Explanations > Beliefs > Health Belief Model

Assumption | Constructs | Discussion | So what?


The Health Belief Model originated in the 1950s to help predict public attitudes and actions around health issues. It is still used in risk areas, from sexual health onwards.


The Health Belief Model assumes that people are largely rational in their thoughts and actions, and will take the best health-supporting action if they:

  1. Feel that it is possible to address a negative health issue.
  2. Have a positive expectation that taking the proposed action will be effective in addressing the issue.
  3. Believe they are able to take the proposed action.


There are a number of sub-variables in the belief that a health-related action is valuable. These provide both factors to enable measurement of attitudes and also routes to persuading people to act in healthy ways.

Perceived Susceptibility

This is the person's assessment of the likelihood of them getting the given condition.

If, for example, they are younger and believe that the condition afflicts mainly older people, then they will be less likely to act to protect themselves.

Education may correct misunderstandings about susceptibility, which is often grossly incorrect, typically due either to social folklore or individual denial.

Perceived Severity

This is the person's view of how severely they would be impacted if they were affected by the condition.

The most severe health impact is death, followed by disablement and pain. Duration is also important: a short, sharp pain may be preferable to a long ache.

As with susceptibility, education can be specific about severity, including probabilities of survival and disablement.

Perceived Benefits

This is the belief in how effective the advised medicine or action will be in mitigating the problems of the condition considered in Severity.

You can give a positive message about the benefits of taking specific actions, including accurate information about how effective medicines are at reducing susceptibility and severity.

The message may also subtly include instructions in taking the recommended actions and indicate the timescales involved before benefits appear.

Perceived Barriers

This is the person's perceptions of the difficulties they would encounter in taking the proposed actions, including both physical and psychological barriers.

These may be addressed through various means of support, from financial through reassurance and assistance.

Cues to Action

These are the prompts that are needed to move the person into the state where they are ready to take the prescribed action.

These can include practical ways of nudging them, such as marked calendars, email reminders, how-to charts and so on.


This is the person's confidence and belief in their own ability to take the given action.

If they think 'I cannot do this' or even 'I would find it difficult' then they may well shy away from action, even if they believe the action is essential or otherwise worthwhile.

This self-belief can be bolstered with encouragement, hand-holding, training and other support.


The model assumes the following causal linkages between constructs and other factors.

  • Likelihood of behavior change is affected solely by the perceived threat from the disease.
  • Perceived threat is impacted by:
    • Perceived susceptibility and seriousness
    • Cues to action, including information and symptoms
  • General factors such as age, sex, race, personality and intelligence affect all of:
    • Perceived threat
    • Perceived susceptibility and seriousness
    • Perception of benefits vs. barriers


This model simply describes a combination of a personal risk analysis, followed by an evaluation of the proposed solution and its use. As a general method of addressing beliefs it offers a useful structure for a wider range of belief-change situations.

Probability and impact are common dimensions of risk in business assessment. Susceptibility and Severity map directly to these.

Benefits receive much attention in sales and are the natural result of using a person-focused approach. Barriers equate to objections which the sales person must overcome. The balance between perceived benefits and barriers is in effect a 'return on investment' assessment.

The principles of cues and self-efficacy are not well covered in disciplines such as sales and offer additional ideas for broader changing-minds situations.

So what?

When seeking to change a person's belief, first understand the model beneath the belief and then address the sub-elements of these. The Health Belief Model provides a useful framework that may either provide direct help or may inspire similar thinking.

See also

Beliefs, Sales


Glanz, K., Marcus Lewis, F. & Rimer, B.K. (1997). Theory at a Glance: A Guide for Health Promotion Practice. National Institute of Health.

Glanz, K., Rimer, B.K. & Lewis, F.M. (2002). Health Behavior and Health Education. Theory, Research and Practice. San Fransisco: Wiley & Sons.



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