Why is behaviour change so difficult?


Session type:

Theresa Marteau1
1University of Cambridge


Most of us value our health highly yet often act in ways that undermine it. If we ate and drank less, didn’t smoke and were physically more active, 40% of cancers and 75% of diabetes and cardiovascular disease would be avoided. Informing individuals of the consequences of engaging in harmful behaviours has been core to many strategies for change. While this can increase awareness of harms, its impact on actual behaviour is, at best, modest. High hopes abound that personalising risk information – giving people their chance of developing a disease - will prove more effective. Such hopes are ill-founded. More effective approaches are those that focus on changing our environments (including physical, economic, digital, social and cultural ones) rather than our minds.Related to these observations, behaviour change might become less difficult if we addressed the following: I Persistence of the idea that much of our behaviour is shaped by our intentions and not by our environments.II Resistance to government regulation needed to re-design our environments so that they more readily cue healthier rather than unhealthier behaviours.