At World Cancer Research Fund we produce lots of health tools and resources but recognise that giving people health information only goes so far when it comes to behaviour change. There are many individual, social and environmental barriers that prevent awareness being turned into action. Being aware of these can make all the difference when helping people to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Barriers to losing weight

Personal beliefs can strongly affect motivation for losing weight. Whether it is low self-esteem, the belief that past weight gain is irreversible, or a fear of the perceived commitment needed to lose weight, a range of destructive beliefs exist which can lead to weight loss being thought of as unachievable.

Tip: break down targets into more realistic milestones and provide ongoing support and motivation to help keep people on track.

Barriers to being more active

Again, lack of motivation is common, but the practical barriers to doing physical activity are often reported, such as cost, lack of accessible facilities and, most importantly, lack of time.

Tip: make people aware of the benefits of being active and how they can incorporate physical activity into everyday life. Explain that activity can be broken down into shorter bursts over the course of a day.

Barriers to drinking less alcohol

The fact that drinking alcohol is considered a normal part of social life poses a major barrier to behaviour change – fear of ‘missing out on the fun’ is a common reason for continuing to drink.

It is worrying that many social and personal problems, such as boredom, depression, stress and low self-esteem are often reported as the cause of drinking.

Tip: A wider cultural shift is needed to ‘de-normalise’ social and excessive drinking but, until that happens, help people reduce consumption by raising awareness of the health risks of drinking and providing alternative coping strategies, such as exercise. Suggest ways to reduce intake such as alcohol-free days, choosing smaller serving sizes and diluting alcoholic drinks with sugar-free mixers.

Barriers to eating less salt

Rather than unwillingness, the most common barrier to reducing salt intake is a lack of awareness of the amount of salt hidden in foods and the health risks associated with eating too much of it.

Tip: while food companies need to continue to reformulate products to reduce levels of salt, health professionals can teach people how to read food labels and how to cook using less salt.

These trends give us some insight into the potential barriers to behaviour change, and can help us support people to be healthier. They also show how important it is to spend time uncovering the personal, social or environmental factors that are affecting an individual’s willingness to take action.

Discussing barriers to behaviour change and ways to overcome them are core elements in our cancer prevention workshops. Find out more about our upcoming workshops for health professionals.