Lay beliefs about health and illness

Howard Leventhal, Yael Benyamini, Cristina Shafer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Risky behaviours promote and healthy behaviours reduce disease risks The evidence is clear: risky behaviours can lead to health crises and healthy behaviours can delay and avoid health crises. Cigarette smoking increases the probability of multiple types of cancer in addition to lung cancer, including cancers in organs as far from the mouth and lungs as the cervix. Cigarette smoking also greatly increases the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. Yet lung cancer has now exceeded breast cancer as a cause of death among women. Obesity is a risk factor for a broad range of diseases (Thompson & Wolf, 2001) and we are facing an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes, formally seen among the elderly and now increasingly diagnosed among teenagers (Mokdad et al., 2001). The epidemic is occurring in spite of the clear evidence that weight loss and exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes. A multi-centre trial with over 3000 participants, each of whom was at high risk for becoming diabetic, found that exercise and dietary changes resulted in a 58% reduction in the number of individuals becoming diabetic whilst medication resulted in a 31% reduction relative to a control group receiving placebo (Knowler et al., 2002). In short, despite knowledge of risk many people smoke, eat unhealthy, high fat, high calorie foods and are physically inactive. Knowledge of risk does not translate into risk avoidant behaviour (see also ‘Health related behaviours’).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine
EditorsSusan Ayers, Andrew Baum, Chris McManus, Stanton Newman, Kenneth Wallston, John Weinman, Robert West
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages5
EditionSecond Edition
ISBN (Electronic)9780511543579
ISBN (Print) 978-0521605106
StatePublished - 2007


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