Ireland performs well in use of behavioural and cultural insights for health

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Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown Ireland is performing well in the use of behavioural and cultural insights (BCI) to support better health, according to Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly and the Chief Medical Officer Professor Breda Smyth.

Global evidence shows that using behavioural and cultural insights can improve health outcomes in areas such as immunisation, attendance at appointments, antimicrobial resistance, health emergencies, mental health and health inequalities.

In September 2022, Ireland and other WHO European Region member states agreed to use a new European regional action framework for BCI for health. 

The WHO has published its first report into the use of BCI for better health across 44 countries. It shows that Ireland is one of just 8 out of 44 countries that have scored at least 3 out of 5 across all five strategic commitments under the framework. This rating means that Ireland has developed a strong baseline from which to achieve the targets set out for Member States in the years to 2026.

Minister Donnelly said, “Our health service must support people to make healthier choices and BCI is helping us to do this. Ireland is committed to increasing further the use of behavioural and cultural insights to improve the health of our population and the performance of our health service. I am very pleased to be able to report that Ireland is one of the few countries performing at the upper end of adoption across all the five ambitious strategic country commitments.

“Ireland played an important role in the development and adoption of the action framework. Implementation of its strategic commitments will result in greater use of insights and support better health outcomes. Public health authorities in Europe and Central Asia are keen to use behavioural and cultural insights to combat major health problems.

“The Department of Health will continue to work closely with the WHO Regional Office for Europe to support capacity building along with inter-country sharing and learning.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Breda Smyth said, “We know that the major health challenges and causes of death and disease have behaviour at their core, including food choices, physical activity, tobacco smoking and alcohol intake. It is vital that we explore the factors affecting health behaviours in order to develop more effective and efficient policy responses that will ultimately lead to better health outcomes.

“We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic how evidence-based behavioural and cultural insights helped to inform our communication of public health measures and the population in Ireland demonstrated a strong adherence to such measures.

“Using BCI is a people-centred approach to health that helps us to better understand needs, motivations and behaviours, and to devise more effective policies that support people to engage in healthier behaviours.  As the WHO report shows, Ireland is already performing well in its use of BCI and work will continue in this area with the aim of improving overall population health.”