Do health risk perceptions motivate water - and health-related behaviour? A systematic literature review

C. Anthonj*, Karen Setty, Giuliana Ferrero, Al-Mounawara A. Yaya, K.I.H. Mingoti Poague, Alan J. Marsh, P.W.M. Augustijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
461 Downloads (Pure)


Health-related risk perceptions are important determinants of health behaviours and components of behaviour change theories. What someone thinks or feels will motivate or hinder their intention or hesitancy to implement a certain behaviour. Thus, a perceived potential risk to our health and well-being can influence our health-promoting and/or health-seeking behaviour. We aimed to review and synthesize available peer-reviewed literature to better understand the links between water and health-related risk perceptions and behaviours.

We conducted the first systematic review of peer-reviewed literature on risk perceptions and behaviours in the context of water and health, published between 2000 and 2021. A total of 187 publications met the inclusion criteria. We extracted data relating to study characteristics and categorized our results according to the major themes emerging from the literature, namely drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and wasterelated topics, health risk factors, diseases and mental health implications, and preventative measures.

Our review shows that the literature has grown over the past twenty years, reporting information from different countries belonging to different income groups around the globe, conducted in various settings and contexts, among different target populations, from various disciplinary angles, using different methods, theories and approaches. Our review provides evidence of health risk perceptions determining behaviour particularly related to drinking water sources and water safety. Evidence on disease prevention, health seeking, variations and changes in perception and behaviour over space, geography, socioeconomic differences and time, and the relevance of cultural context is provided. Our review shows that risk perception studies are vital for WASH governance in terms of policy, raising awareness, education and behaviour change. In order to make risk perception and behaviour studies even more relevant to effective public health planning and health messaging, future research needs to increasingly focus on early culturally sensitive interventions and changes in perceptions and behaviours over time.
Original languageEnglish
Article number152902
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalScience of the total environment
Early online date6 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • Behaviour change
  • Health-related knowledge
  • Hygiene
  • Risk perception
  • Health behaviour
  • Sanitation
  • Drinking water
  • Water safety
  • WASH
  • SDG 6
  • UT-Hybrid-D


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