Background: Although percentage risk formats are commonly used to convey cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, people find it difficult to understand these representations.
Aims: To compare the impact of providing a CVD risk message in either a traditional format (% risk) or using an analogy of risk (Heart-Age) on participants' risk perceptions and intention to make lifestyle changes.
Methods: Four hundred and thirteen men and women were randomly allocated to one of two conditions; CVD risk as a percentage or as a Heart-Age score (a cardiovascular risk adjusted age).
Results: There was a graded relationship between perceived and actual CVD risk only in those participants receiving a Heart-Age message (P<0.05). Heart-Age was more emotionally impactful in younger individuals at higher actual CVD risk (P<0.01). Self-reported emotional reactions further mediated the relationship between risk perception and intention to make lifestyle changes.
Conclusion: This study found that the Heart-Age message significantly differed from percentage CVD risk score in risk perceptions and was more emotionally impactful in those participants at higher actual CVD risk levels.