WHO Bulletin: Using behavioural science for better health

4 November, 2021

Below are extracts from a new paper in the WHO Bulletin, from WHO Director-General Dr Tedros, and a comment from me.

CITATION: Bull World Health Organ. 2021 Nov 1; 99(11): 755.

Published online 2021 Nov 1. doi: 10.2471/BLT.21.287387

PMCID: PMC8542276

Using behavioural science for better health

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesuscorresponding author a

'Hand hygiene is one of the most effective measures to stop infection spread but people often fail to keep adequate hand hygiene, even where water and soap are available. We should resist the temptation to conclude that people have insufficient knowledge or awareness of the importance of such matters: these are behavioural issues, and most if not all health challenges involve the behaviour of individuals...

'As members of the broader public health community, we need to get better at listening and observing people and their needs. Doing so requires rigorous collection of behavioural data to understand, for example, how and why our minds take shortcuts, also called heuristics, when information is too much or unclear, or when the right choice is too hard to make...

'We also need more information on how people around us influence our decisions, and on how to design environments, services, products and solutions that support, rather than block, behaviours that improve health...'

COMMENT (NPW): I agree with almost everything in the article but would like to comment on the sentence: 'We should resist the temptation to conclude that people have insufficient knowledge or awareness of the importance of such matters'. Indeed we should not make conclusions without evidence but research on people's health knowledge demonstrates repeatedly that in almost every area of health there are indeed important deficiencies of knowledge, not only among the public but also among health workers and policymakers. Moreover people have difficulty to access reliable information and to tell the difference between reliable information and misinformation. My response to the above sentence would be: 'We should resist the temptation to conclude that people have sufficient health knowledge'.

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org