Beliefs about the extent to which health problems can be prevented reflect an understanding that preventive measures can reduce adverse health events and the level of control individuals perceive that they hold over the factors that affect their health. A population survey of 1659 people conducted in 1995 in south western Sydney, Australia, found that only child drownings, tooth decay, skin cancer, and burns and scalds were considered all or mostly preventable by more than 50% of the sample. The majority of respondents did not believe that heart attacks, cervical cancer, high blood pressure, serious road injury, lung cancer and asthma deaths were all or mostly preventable. Logistic regression analysis showed that people born in an English speaking country, those with more than 10 years of education and men were significantly more likely to recognize a number of key conditions as highly preventable. The findings suggest that, in spite of the range of prevention efforts in Australia to date, these are not matched by strong beliefs within the community that prevention is possible. Communication of the opportunities and methods for prevention needs to be improved, particularly among certain population groups. The findings also indicate a need to examine social and environmental factors which are potentially reducing confidence, and subsequently the adoption of preventive behaviours.