What Is The Health Belief Model (HBM) And How Can You Apply It To Your Health Goals?

The Health Belief Model, otherwise known as the HBM, is a methodology scientists and medical professionals use to attempt to predict, understand, and adjust health behaviors.

So, what exactly is the Health Belief Model, and how can you apply it to your life and your health goals?

Originally developed in the 1950s by two social psychologists Godfrey H. Hochbaum and Irwin M. Rosenstock. The two psychologists were working in the U.S. Public Health Service and, with the help of other social scientists, developed the Health Belief Model to explain that people were failing to participate in programs that could help prevent and detect their diseases.

What is the Health Belief Model (HBM) Based On?

The HBM has been updated in recent years, to address societal changes in how people approach their health and well-being. Essentially, this model is based on the idea that a person’s willingness, or ability to improve their health behaviors, is linked to their own perceptions – especially perceptions of their limitations.

For instance, the Health Belief Model suggests we’re more likely to take positive actions to improve our well-being, when we believe the following:

·         We’re equipped to make meaningful, successful changes and confident we can do so

·         The barriers to changing our behaviors are low, or limitations are not severe

·         The information available to guide our decisions is compelling

·         Benefits associated with these wellness activities are significant

·         How susceptible to health problems we think we are is significant

·         The consequences of failing to perform certain actions are believed to be severe

Used correctly, the health belief model not only assists caregivers in promoting healthy behaviors, but it can also be a valuable tool in pushing yourself towards your own personal goals.

The Components of the Health Belief Model

The health belief model is rooted in psychology. It lets us know that how we feel and think about certain risks, limitations and opportunities connected to our health will influence our actions towards taking care of our health.

Originally, this model was developed to assist scientists in understanding how and why individuals will seek out specific health services and ignore others. For instance, the health belief model could help healthcare providers understand why some people are more likely to adhere to COVID testing requirements, and why others may avoid vaccinations.

There are currently six primary components to the HBM. Four were developed when the theory was first established in the 1950s, while the additional two were introduced in the 1980s when the model was updated.

Below are the six components of the Health Belief Model:

1.      Perceived Severity

The Health Belief Model suggests the probability of a person changing their activities or health behaviors is greater when they believe the consequences of not doing so are severe. Again, it’s all about individual perception. For instance, if you’re starting a new job and get a cold on your first day, you’re unlikely to call in sick, because you’re likely to believe the consequences of missing work are greater than staying at home.

Similarly, if you’re young and in love, you’d be less likely to consider using condoms if you perceived an STD as a minor inconvenience, rather than a life-changing condition. This is why governments and health organizations heavily promoted messages about safe sex, and the dangers of STDs during the AIDS epidemic.

Notably, studies suggest that perceived risk or severity is one of the least powerful predictors of whether people will engage in behaviors related to preventing illness. This could be because we believe the short-term benefits of an action outweigh the potential risk.

2.      Perceived Susceptibility to Illness or Perceived Health Risks

People will generally only alter their health behaviors when they consider themselves to be directly at risk of a certain disease, or ailment. If you don’t have a history of diabetes in your family, you may assume you’re not susceptible to this condition, and therefore take fewer precautions with your diet.

The younger you are, the more likely you are to feel less susceptible to certain ailments. Many young people assume they won’t fall victim to skin or lung cancer, so they’re less worried about smoking or exposing themselves to the sun.

Unfortunately, this often means many people engage in dangerous activities when they’re younger, due to a misinformed sense of being ‘invincible’.

You may also believe you’re not susceptible to certain health problems if you’re not aware of the health risks embedded in your DNA. If you’re not aware of genetic health conditions that run in your family, you might be less careful. This is why it’s so helpful to use your CircleDNA test to read about your genetic health risks.

3.      Perceived Benefits

Many of the decisions we make in life are based on a cost-risk analysis. We determine whether the benefits of certain actions will outweigh any potential downsides or barriers. For instance, working out in the morning could be associated with significant drawbacks, such as reduced time in bed. However, it can also increase your energy, metabolic function, and focus for the rest of the day.

Proponents of the Health Belief Model suggest the benefits of a healthy activity need to be clear and compelling to gain our attention. If you believe getting vaccinated will protect you and your loved ones, and ensure you can continue to go to work and earn an income, you’re more likely to do it.

How compelling the benefits of an action will be is often linked to how effective you think the activities are. For instance, if you believe eating more vegetables might improve your immunity, but you’re not convinced, you’re more likely to avoid doing it.

4.      Perceived Barriers

We often perpetuate unhealthy behaviors because we believe changing our actions is difficult. If you want to lose weight, you’ll know that changing your diet, avoiding certain foods, and exercising more regularly will be challenging. Changing health behaviors can also require us to invest both time and money into our actions.

The Health Behavior Model suggests the greater the perceived barriers to an activity are, the more we’ll avoid it. Sometimes, it’s not just the physical difficulty of doing something that affects our behavior, but also psychological difficulties. For example, if you’re afraid you’ll be judged by fitter individuals when visiting the gym, you might give up on your resolutions to lose weight.

Many health initiatives today are carefully promoted to reduce the perceived barriers to change. When the COVID pandemic hit, medical centers started introducing temporary testing buildings and facilities to ensure people could easily assess their systems without traveling long distances.

5.      Cues to Action

This component of the Health Belief Model was introduced in the 1980s. It looks at the fact that sometimes, even if people want to change their behaviors for the better, they still may fail to do so without a little nudging.

Cues to action are used by healthcare practitioners to effectively push people into taking positive steps towards bettering their health. You might see posters for COVID testing on the walls of the offices and public transportation networks in your town. These are intended to motivate you to act.

Advertisements on the radio and television can encourage people to get their flu jab during the colder months of the year. Some doctors even send emails and SMS messages to patients, reminding them to schedule screenings, or appointments for specific conditions.

6.      Self-Efficacy

This component was added to the Health Belief Model in 1988. Self-efficacy looks at a person’s belief that they actually have the ability to make a health-related change. Some of us believe we’re simply not strong enough to take certain actions. For instance, you might think you don’t have the willpower to lose weight or quit smoking.

Our faith in our ability to achieve our goals significantly influences whether we’ll pursue changes, or ignore any potential consequences of our behaviors. For example, one study found women who were confident in their ability to breastfeed were more likely to nurse their children for longer.

While it’s difficult for healthcare providers to provide us with the confidence we need to change our actions, many offer support, tips, and guidance, to encourage self-efficacy.

How to Use the Health Belief Model to Achieve Your Goals

Over the years, the Health Belief Model has formed many of the core components of effective health interventions and initiatives. Medical experts and scientists have worked together to encourage people to eat more nutritional foods, avoid certain ingredients, get more exercise, and seek out vaccinations.

Using the health belief model, yourself means thinking carefully about the mindset you have when it comes to certain health behaviors. By altering your thought patterns, accessing additional information, and motivating yourself to make positive changes, you’ll be more likely to achieve your goals.

Here’s how you might be able to use the Health Belief Model to achieve your own targets. For the purpose of this example, we’ll assume your goal is to achieve a healthy weight:

·         Perceived severity: Researching and understanding the negative repercussions of obesity or being overweight can help you to grasp just how problematic the issue can be. Read up on the dangers of abdominal fat, think about how your weight affects your self-esteem, and make a list of perceived dangers. You might list issues such as confidence problems, fatigue, an increased risk of chronic illness, and even the expenses associated with overeating.

·         Perceived susceptibility to illness: If you’re already overweight, your perceived susceptibility will focus on your chances of experiencing the side-effects of obesity. Make sure you understand how a small amount of excess weight can alter any person’s life. If you’re currently at a healthy weight, use your Circle DNA test to determine how susceptible you might be to gaining weight. This can help to encourage you to create the right diet and exercise plan.

·         Perceived benefits: Just as you have a list of potential dangers to increased weight to guide you, it’s also possible to list the benefits of losing weight for motivation. Losing weight can improve your physical and mental health, reduce feelings of fatigue, and boost your self-esteem. It could help you to lead a longer, happier life.

·         Cues to action: Implementing your own cues to action means consistently pushing yourself to take positive steps towards your goals. Add a calendar to your fridge with milestone dates for when you want to lose a specific amount of weight. Use reminders on your phone to tell you when to exercise, and consider asking your friends and family to motivate you. Commit to regularly weighing yourself so you can track your progress.

·         Self-Efficacy: To achieve self-efficacy within the Health Belief Model, you need to commit to regular positive thinking. Challenge any thoughts that you can’t do it. Even if you don’t achieve your goals as quickly as you’d hope, remind yourself constantly of the accomplishments you have achieved. Believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid to seek help if you need extra support.

Can the Health Belief Model Change Your Life?

The Health Belief Model is already being used to great effect by healthcare leaders and experts around the world. Although this model doesn’t account for all factors which might influence your behavior, such as environmental and economic conditions, it does provide a clear insight into why we might act in certain ways.

Using the Health Belief Model, you can educate yourself on the barriers and issues that may be preventing you from making positive change. You can also commit to using more of the right resources to guide you towards your targets. For instance, using your CircleDNA test, you’ll be able to determine just how susceptible you are to certain hereditary health conditions, how severe those ailments may be, and what the benefits could be if you make changes and adopt preventative habits.

Your DNA test will also provide you with tips and guidance to overcome potential barriers, and cues to action in the form of step-by-step advice. Order your CircleDNA test today, and give yourself an advantage in applying the Health Belief Model to achieve your health goals.


  1. Champion, V. L., & Skinner, C. S. (2008). The health belief model. In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer, & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 45–65). Jossey-Bass.
  2. Historical Origins of the Health Belief Model https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/109019817400200403
  3. The Health Belief Model as an Explanatory Framework in Communication Research: Exploring Parallel, Serial, and Moderated Mediation https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10410236.2013.873363?cookieSet=1
  4. Maternal Breastfeeding Self‐Efficacy and the Breastfeeding Behaviors of Newborns in the Practice of Exclusive Breastfeeding https://www.jognn.org/article/S0884-2175(15)31317-4/fulltext

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