Communicating Risks and Benefits from Fish Consumption: Impact on Belgian Consumers' Perception and Intention to Eat Fish

W. Verbeke, F. Vanhonacker, L.J. Frewer, I. Sioen, S. de Henauw, J. van Camp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Communicating about the health effects of fish and seafood may potentially result in a conflict situation: increasing intake is desirable because of health and nutritional benefits, but higher consumption may also lead to an increased intake of potentially harmful environmental contaminants. In order to anticipate the communication challenge this conflict may pose, the research presented here aimed to assess the impact of risk/benefit communication on Belgian consumers' fish consumption behavior and fish attribute perception. Data were collected in June 2005 from a sample of 381 women, aged between 20 and 50 years. An experimental design consisting of four message conditions (benefit-only; risk-only; benefit-risk; and risk-benefit) combined with three information sources (fish and food industry; consumer organization; government) was used. Exposure to the benefit-only message resulted in an increase from a self-reported fish consumption frequency of 4.2 times per month to an intended fish consumption frequency of 5.1 times per month (+21%), while fish attribute perceptions only marginally improved. The risk-only message resulted in a strong negative perceptual change in the range of two points on a seven-point scale. This translated into an 8% decrease of behavioral intention (from eating fish 4.5 times per month to an intention of eating fish 4.1 times per month). Balanced messages referring to both risks and benefits yielded no significant change in behavioral intention, despite a significant worsening of fish attribute perception. The presentation order of benefits and risks in the balanced message showed a tendency to affect both behavioral intention and attribute perception, with the first message component being most influential. Information source did not yield any significant impact either on behavioral intention or on attribute perceptions, independent of the message content. The results from this study provide valuable insights for future risk/benefit and balanced communication about seafood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-967
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • sport-caught fish
  • cardiovascular-disease
  • chemical contaminants
  • quantitative-analysis
  • public-participation
  • dietary-intake
  • social trust
  • health-risk
  • fatty-acids
  • food risks

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