Assessing the effect of public health information by incentivised risk estimation: An example on Swedish snus

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Background: The provision of accurate information on health damaging behaviours and products is a widely accepted and widespread governmental task. It is easily mismanaged. This study demonstrates a simple method which can help to evaluate whether such information corrects recipient risk beliefs. Methods: Participants assess risks numerically, before and after being exposed to a relevant risk communication. Accuracy is incentivised by awarding financial prizes to answers closest to a pursued risk belief. To illustrate this method, 228 students from the University of Oslo, Norway, were asked to estimate the mortality risk of Swedish snus and cigarettes twice, before and after being exposed to one of three risk communications with information on the health dangers of snus. Results: The data allow us to measure how participants updated their risk beliefs after being exposed to different risk communications. Risk information from the government strongly distorted risk perceptions for snus. A newspaper article discussing the relative risks of cigarettes and snus reduced belief errors regarding snus risks, but increased belief errors regarding smoking. The perceived quality of the risk communication was not associated with decreased belief errors. Conclusion: Public health information can potentially make the public less informed on risks about harmful products or behaviours. This risk can be reduced by targeting identified, measurable belief errors and empirically assessing how alternative communications affect these. The proposed method of incentivised risk estimation might be helpful in future assessments of risk communications.




Bergsvik, D., & Rogeberg, O. (2018). Assessing the effect of public health information by incentivised risk estimation: An example on Swedish snus. International Journal of Drug Policy, 54, 51–57.

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