Passing years, changing fears? Conceptualizing and measuring risk perceptions for chronic disease in younger and middle-aged women

J Behav Med. 2012 Apr;35(2):124-38. doi: 10.1007/s10865-011-9342-8. Epub 2011 Apr 13.


As is true for many behavioral theory constructs, no consensus exists on how best to measure perceived risk; therefore, it is unclear whether different measures of disease risk perception are conceptually equivalent and whether such measures are equally appropriate for people with different objective disease risk. To investigate these issues, we used four commonly utilized risk perception items (measuring beliefs about personal risk, others' risk, disease prevalence, and mortality) to assess susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and lung cancer among 454 younger (ages 18-25) and 169 middle-aged (40-64) women. We examined age- and ethnicity-related differences in participants' responses to the items. We also used structural equation modeling to test whether these items reflect a multidimensional, disease-specific latent construct of risk perception; and to test whether consistency exists in participants' disease-specific risk perceptions. Despite differences in responses to individual items, hypothesized models of perceived risk fit both age groups, suggesting that risk perception can be conceptualized in younger and middle-aged women as a multidimensional construct that is specific to disease yet reflective of global risk-related beliefs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Risk*
  • Women / psychology*
  • Women's Health