Defining and Assessing Risks to Health
This chapter offers a detailed explanation of the report's approach to health risks. It argues that while much scientific effort and most health resources today are directed towards treating disease, rather than preventing it, focusing on risks to health is the key to prevention. Such risks do not occur in isolation, so both proximal and distal causes of adverse health outcomes need to be considered. Population-based strategies aim to make healthy behaviour a social norm, thus lowering risk in the entire population. Small shifts in some risks in the population can translate into major public health benefits. Therefore this chapter strongly advocates the assessment of population-wide risks as well as high-risk individuals in strategies for risk reduction. The key challenge is to find the right balance between the two approaches. Risk assessment has emerged in recent years from its roots in the study of environmental problems, and the steps generally involved in environmental risk assessment can be adapted to apply more specifically to the analysis of health risks. This chapter explains the benefits of comparing different risks to health and defines and explains risk assessment.