CHIME News

Publication: Who is sceptical about emerging public health threats? Results from 39 national surveys in the United Kingdom.

27 October 2015

Scepticism about the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic was associated with being male, white and healthy, and with not knowing anyone who had contracted the illness.

Using data from 39 national telephone surveys commissioned by the UK Department of Health, James Rubin and Yaacov Finn at King’s College London, Henry Potts of the UCL Institute of Health Informatics, and Susan Michie of UCL’s Health Psychology Research Group were able to assess who is sceptical and why. Their results have now been been published as an open access paper in the journal Public Health (Rubin GJ, Finn Y, Potts HWW, Michie S (2015). Who is sceptical about emerging public health threats? Results from 39 national surveys in the United Kingdom. Public Health. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2015.09.004).

H1N1 influenza virus

Scepticism about the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic was associated with being male, white and healthy, and with not knowing anyone who had contracted the illness.

Scepticism was also associated with believing you knew more about the pandemic, saying you did not have any further information needs, and with actually knowing less about it. This is problematic. People who feel that they already have sufficient information to form a view about a health risk are less likely to engage with new information that they encounter.

In the 2009/10 pandemic, this belief they had enough information was misplaced, with those who felt that too much fuss was being made also being more likely to give the wrong answers to factual questions included in the survey. Given this, merely presenting facts about a risk may be unlikely to engage such individuals in any future public health crisis: demonstrating that they know less than they think they do may be a more effective way of motivating them to seek out additional information.

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