"Sneaky disease": the body and health knowledge for people at risk for coronary heart disease in Ontario, Canada

Soc Sci Med. 2005 May;60(9):2117-28. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.08.069. Epub 2004 Dec 18.


The contribution of modifiable risk factors to the prevalence of coronary heart disease (CHD) has been well documented in the literature. A focus group component of a cardiovascular risk reduction project, The Community Outreach in Heart Health and Risk Reduction Trial was designed to explore issues that facilitate or constrain individual efforts to implement changes to health behaviours. Eight focus groups were conducted in urban, northern and rural sites in Ontario, Canada. In this article, we elaborate on the difficulties all group members experienced as they attempted to interpret their personal candidacy for CHD. For many participants, CHD was an undetectable or "sneaky disease" in its earlier stages, thus coronary risk was to them an abstract concept that could not ordinarily be detected through sensory perception. Participants drew on three possible strategies to determine their candidacy for CHD: they cognitively engaged in weighing risks, they relied on the interpretive powers of medical hermeneutics, or they waited for "the big event". The findings suggest that lay understandings of the body and health differ from those of health professionals and educators, and that lay understandings differ according to SES and gender. This has implications for health literacy and must be considered in devising strategies for health education.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Coronary Disease / ethnology
  • Coronary Disease / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Behavior* / ethnology
  • Health Education*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Risk