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Public Health and Risk Communication During COVID-19—Enhancing Psychological Needs to Promote Sustainable Behavior Change

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Porat, Talya 
Nyrup, Rune 
Calvo, Rafael A. 
Paudyal, Priya 
Ford, Elizabeth 


Background: The current COVID-19 pandemic requires sustainable behavior change to mitigate the impact of the virus. A phenomenon which has arisen in parallel with this pandemic is an infodemic—an over-abundance of information, of which some is accurate and some is not, making it hard for people to find trustworthy and reliable guidance to make informed decisions. This infodemic has also been found to create distress and increase risks for mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Aim: To propose practical guidelines for public health and risk communication that will enhance current recommendations and will cut through the infodemic, supporting accessible, reliable, actionable, and inclusive communication. The guidelines aim to support basic human psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness to support well-being and sustainable behavior change. Method: We applied the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and concepts from psychology, philosophy and human computer interaction to better understand human behaviors and motivations and propose practical guidelines for public health communication focusing on well-being and sustainable behavior change. We then systematically searched the literature for research on health communication strategies during COVID-19 to discuss our proposed guidelines in light of the emerging literature. We illustrate the guidelines in a communication case study: wearing face-coverings. Findings: We propose five practical guidelines for public health and risk communication that will cut through the infodemic and support well-being and sustainable behavior change: (1) create an autonomy-supportive health care climate; (2) provide choice; (3) apply a bottom-up approach to communication; (4) create solidarity; (5) be transparent and acknowledge uncertainty. Conclusion: Health communication that starts by fostering well-being and basic human psychological needs has the potential to cut through the infodemic and promote effective and sustainable behavior change during such pandemics. Our guidelines provide a starting point for developing a concrete public health communication strategy.



Public Health, public health, health communication (MESH), risk communication, COVID-19, coronavirus, infodemic, behavior change, well-being

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Frontiers in Public Health

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Frontiers Media S.A.