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Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

Challenges and Considerations in Applying the Health Belief Model

Challenges include:

  • Needing to be careful not to "blame the victim." The Health Belief Model (HBM) stresses personal responsibility, which may lead people to feel it is their fault if they cannot solve their own health problems. Unfortunately, a health problem is often more complex or may be caused by factors over which an individual has less personal control (e.g., economic or environmental factors).

  • Providing meaningful Cues to Action can be challenging, especially as time passes. Make sure you have appropriate permission to use reminder messages outside of class (e.g., posters, newsletter submissions, announcements).

Other special considerations include the following:

  • The HBM focuses on beliefs and attitudes and, as such, may be less appropriate for dealing with habitual behaviors like smoking, dieting, or other emotionally motivated health behaviors. These behaviors should be addressed separately. In addition, economic and environmental factors are not addressed with the Health Belief Model since these may be out of an individual's control.

  • The HBM is a good fit for prevention-focused programs because these programs generally promote specific actions, and the HBM helps participants to take action. However, HBM is not always a good fit for comprehensive family life education programs which tend to be more information-based and wider in scope of topics.

  • To help build self-efficacy, encourage youth to set short-term goals, which are generally easier to achieve and receive reinforcement for than long-term goals, which may not be realized for months or years.

  • Grant support for programs which are based on the HBM may be easier to get from funding agencies. Funders generally prefer supporting programs that are carefully crafted and grounded in well-researched approaches and models such as the HBM.

  • It is more effective to combine the HBM with other learning theories (e.g., Social Learning Theory) than to offer specific guidelines for teaching skills.

  • Be aware that the HBM uses "appropriate fear-based messages" in order to facilitate youths' perceived susceptibility and severity. Be careful not to overdo it. When fear levels are too high, youth may feel helpless.

  • The HBM is much more effective for a multiple layer intervention. The combination of multiple interventions (e.g., a school health event, classroom instruction, and an educational ad campaign) is more effective than any single intervention.

  • The HBM is best used for a relatively short intervention to achieve a specific change. It may be less effective in achieving long-term change.

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