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

G. J. Rubin*, Y. Finn, H. W W Potts, S. Michie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
153 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives: Members of the public are often sceptical about warnings of an impending public health crisis. Breaking through this scepticism is important if we are to convince people to take urgent protective action. In this paper we explored correlates of perceiving that 'too much fuss' was being made about the 2009/10 influenza A H1N1v ('swine flu') pandemic. Study design: A secondary analysis of data from 39 nationally representative telephone surveys conducted in the UK during the pandemic. Methods: Each cross-sectional survey (combined n = 42,420) collected data over a three day period and asked participants to state whether they agreed or disagreed that 'too much fuss is being made about the risk of swine flu.'. Results: Overall, 55.1% of people agreed or strongly agreed with this sentiment. Perceiving that too much fuss was being made was associated with: being male, being white, being generally healthy, trusting most in a primary care physician to provide advice, not knowing someone who had contracted the illness, believing you know a lot about the outbreak, not wishing to receive additional information about the outbreak and possessing worse factual knowledge about the outbreak than other people. Conclusions: In future disease outbreaks merely providing factual information is unlikely to engage people who are sceptical about the need to take action. Instead, messages which challenge their perceived knowledge and which present case studies of people who have been affected may prove more effective, especially when delivered through trusted channels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1553-1562
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Health
Issue number12
Early online date23 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Communication
  • Influenza
  • Pandemic
  • Psychology
  • Scepticism


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