Statistical Messages

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This entry provides an introduction to the communication of statistical health messages to the lay public. Statistical health messages are defined in this entry as “messages about numbers of individuals, events or items in the context of health and healthcare.” The lay public is mostly confronted with these messages in probability form, through the news and public health institutions, or through medical information from a doctor or nurse. Such messages are often about health risks, and the field of risk communication is not only concerned with adequately conveying the statistics in question, but also with aligning communication with the public's existing beliefs and values (i.e., dialogue). Communication of statistical health messages is usually aimed at supporting behavior change or at informing decision making. However, statistical health messages, particularly in probability form, are known to be abstract and difficult to understand, especially for those with lower numeracy. There is a large body of literature yielding best practices for communicating probability information and for risk communication. The use of numerical formats is generally recommended over verbal terms only. However, communicators should “do the math” for users, such as specifying a number's evaluative meaning and supporting comprehension of the “gist” message, for example through visualization. In line with best practices for health communication more generally, the message conveying health statistics should be closely aligned to its purpose.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWiley Encyclopedia of Health Communication
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2022

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