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How is risk determined?

“Risk” is the chance that something bad will happen. Risk does not mean that something bad will definitely happen. Almost everything we do has an associated risk. Living is a risky business. People will generally take risks if they feel that there is an advantage or benefit. So, as discussed in Week 2, we need to look at risks and benefits together. There’s no such thing as a zero risk so we are always deciding whether for us the benefits of an action will outweigh the risks. How you view it depends to a large extent on your own circumstances.

For health researchers, identifying and quantifying risk is done at a group or population level. It’s about how patterns of disease emerge and what factors may be linked to the pattern. So whilst they can tell you that one person in seven may develop a particular disease, they can’t tell you whether that person is you.

This table from a document produced by the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists gives an indication of how risks are quantified. But remember, risks are calculated at population level not for individuals. Even where the risk is very high, there is no certainty.

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This article is from the free online course:

Making Sense of Health Evidence: The Informed Consumer

Cardiff University