The world health report

Chapter 3

Perceiving Risks

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Both risks and benefits have to be considered when seeking to understand what drives some behaviours and why some interventions are more acceptable and successful than others. Social, cultural and economic factors are central to how individuals perceive health risks. Similarly, societal and structural factors can influence which risk control policies are adopted and the impact that interventions can achieve. Preventing risk factors has to be planned within the context of local society, bearing in mind that the success of preventive interventions is only partly a matter of individual circumstances and education. In designing intervention strategies, it cannot automatically be assumed that the diverse groups which make up the general public think in the same way as public health professionals and other risk experts. In addition, estimates of risk and its consequences, presented in scientific terms based on a risk assessment, have to be communicated with particular caution and care. The best way is for well-respected professionals, who are seen to be independent and credible, to make the communications. An atmosphere of trust between the government and all interested parties, in both the public and private sectors, is essential if interventions are to be adopted and successfully implemented.