Queen's Policy Engagement

What has COVID-19 shown us about the best ways to encourage people to adopt preventive health behaviours?

The COVID Health Related Behaviour Review project (COHeRe) has identified three key factors driving healthier and less risky behaviours – leading to recommendations for more effective public health messaging during the pandemic and beyond says Dr Jennifer Hanratty and Professor Martin Dempster.

What has COVID-19 shown us about the best ways to encourage people to adopt preventive health behaviours?

Over the last 18 months or so, the relationship between behaviours and health has been seared into the public consciousness as a result of COVID-19. The encouragement and enforcement of behaviours such as social distancing, wearing face coverings, handwashing and quarantining have been ever-present topics of debate in our homes and the media.

But what has been learned along the way about the most effective ways to encourage people to engage in these preventive behaviours? The COVID Health Related Behaviour Review project (COHeRe) has been established to better understand the evidence through a series of systematic reviews feeding into an ‘evidence and gap map’.

The initial stages of our work, based at Queen’s University Belfast, have already drawn some clear conclusions. For example, we have found only small and inconsistent relationships between age and engagement in these behaviours – which might seem at odds with a public perception of ‘irresponsible young people’. And while we did find that women are consistently more likely to engage in preventive behaviours than men, the gender difference is small.

Where we do see a strong correlation is between an individual’s perception of risk and their engagement with preventive behaviours. This is not surprising: most people will modify their behaviour if they fully understand how risky something is.

But it suggests that, as we begin to draw conclusions from the pandemic to inform future resilience strategies, a key question for policymakers should be: how do we get people to understand risk better? Furthermore, they need to understand what other factors might influence people’s engagement with these preventive behaviours.

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Article originally appeared on the The International Public Policy Observatory website.  


About the Authors

Dr Jennifer Hanratty and Professor Martin Dempster both work in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University, Belfast.


The featured image in this article is used under a Creative Commons licence.

Kevin Fearon
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Kevin Fearon is the Business Alliance Manager for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Queen's University Belfast and manages the Queen's Policy Engagement initiative.

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