Objectives: To assess women's perceptions of risk for osteoporosis and to identify factors that shape those perceptions.
Methods: A community sample of 358 women (aged 40-86) rated their perceived risk of osteoporosis and provided detailed information about factors underlying their risk perceptions. Their open-ended responses were content analysed.
Results: On average, participants believed they were less likely to develop osteoporosis than other women their age. In all, 63% perceived their risk as lower than other women their age; only 16% as higher. In explaining their risk, women mentioned more risk-decreasing factors than risk-increasing factors. Women who rated their risk as low attributed their risk primarily to their own preventive behaviors (e.g. taking calcium, exercising), whereas women who rated their risk as high attributed their risk primarily to their family history. Risk-increasing and risk-decreasing personal actions, hereditary factors, and physiological factors accounted for 53% of the variance in perceived risk for osteoporosis. Only one-half and one-third of all women, however, mentioned calcium consumption and exercise, respectively, as protective factors employed to reduce osteoporosis risk. Women also held misconceptions about osteoporosis risk and protective factors.
Conclusions: The current findings yield a detailed portrait of women's risk perceptions for osteoporosis. Increasing awareness of osteoporosis should be a priority for future osteoporosis prevention campaigns. Interventions should address misconceptions women may hold about their risk for the disease and promote specific behavioral strategies for osteoporosis prevention.