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.
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.