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What is the Health Belief Model?

The Health Belief Model is a psychological framework that predicts and explains health behaviors by focusing on individual beliefs and attitudes. It assesses perceived threats and benefits, considering factors like severity, susceptibility, and self-efficacy. By understanding this model, we can better grasp why people make the health choices they do. How might this influence your own health decisions?
Christina Whyte
Christina Whyte

The health belief model is a psychological theory explaining why people do or do not engage in preventative health measures, such as getting tested for a disease, eating healthy and exercising, or using condoms. It has several components that when put together indicate how likely a person is to take a particular action for preventative health. The health belief model is used by doctors, nurses, policy makers, public health educators, and others in attempts to get more people to take action to protect their health.

This model was developed in the 1950s, making it one of the oldest theoretical models related to health behavior. There are several important concepts in the health belief model, although these vary slightly depending on the source. These concepts are perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived barriers/costs, perceived benefits, cue to action and self efficacy. The components of the health belief model are all based on the individual's perceptions rather than on objective measures.

A person needs to believe that he or she has the strength to cease bad habits, such as smoking.
A person needs to believe that he or she has the strength to cease bad habits, such as smoking.

Perceived susceptibility refers to a person's belief about his or her own personal risk for a negative health consequence, such as developing diabetes or cancer. The belief that the health consequence, if it occurred, would be serious is referred to as perceived severity. According to the health belief model, a person needs to believe that he or she is susceptible to serious consequences before he or she will take preventative health actions.

Any barriers that a person perceives are very important in determining whether he or she will take action. Many preventative health measures require a change of lifestyle, which a lot of people may think of as insurmountably difficult. Cost and time are other common barriers. People must also see clear benefits in taking action. If the benefits do not outweigh the costs or barriers, action is unlikely.

The health belief model states that there must be a cue to take action in order to spark change. This can be something like a cancer awareness campaign that urges people to get testing done, or a contest in which people stop smoking. A person needs to believe that he or she has the strength and ability to change, which is known as self-efficacy. Without this belief, someone may be concerned about a health issue and think that he or she should take action, but may still not actually do anything about this belief.

Empirical testing of the health belief model is important but somewhat lacking, even though it is very widely used. Some people criticize the model for focusing too much on the individual and not enough on society and community factors. It is still a very useful model to consider when designing public health campaigns or otherwise trying to convince people to take preventative health action.

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Discussion Comments


I think the best preventive care measures are exercise and eating healthy, and doing what makes you happy. I go to the doctor regularly, for my yearly examination. However, I do lose confidence in the medical field when I constantly read about new studies that disprove the validity of other studies that we had accepted as fact for years.

For example, we are now hearing that certain cancer screenings are useless at best and maybe even harmful to our health. How do you know what to believe?

Many young people my age don't even go to the doctor once a year because they believe they are too young to be sick and they don't have confidence in doctors in general.


My grandmother always said if you let a doctor poke on you long enough then he will find something wrong with you. There are many of my grandmother's views I do not share, but I know what she meant in this case.

Medicine has gotten so advanced today that we have names for everything that ails a person, and of course there is a treatment or an expensive drug that will be prescribed to help us deal with it. There has to be a middle ground between being careless about your health and being a hypochondriac.


Working in the health profession, I am often asked why some people tend to be healthier than others. Of course, there is no universal answer to this question. Everyone is different and these differences play a role in overall general health. For example, genetics can set the foundation for a person's general health.

There is something to be said for having parents and other family members who have lived long and healthy lives. However, if I had to pick one trait or characteristic to focus on for determining a person's health it would be his or her opinions about doctors and medicine.

I think the health belief model is a great way for getting an idea of how healthy a person will be throughout his or her life as compared to other people in similar situations and environments.

When you don't understand and accept the importance of screenings for diseases such as cancer you are more likely to not realize you have the disease until it has spread and gone beyond treatment.

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    • A person needs to believe that he or she has the strength to cease bad habits, such as smoking.
      By: igor
      A person needs to believe that he or she has the strength to cease bad habits, such as smoking.