Health problems of particular relevance to women include cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in women, breast cancer, the most prevalent form of cancer in women apart from skin cancer, and lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Individual women differ in their perception of risk for these diseases. Although perceptions of disease risk have critical public health implications because they are associated with the adoption of protective and screening health behaviors, little is known about psychosocial factors that contribute to disease risk perceptions. However, research on individual traits and social influences suggests that these and related factors may affect perceptions of disease risk, and that such associations differ for women of varying ages.
The present study used structural equation modeling to test theoretically-based hypotheses about women’s perceptions of risk for cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and lung cancer, with four main goals: (1) to compare competing models of risk perceptions in both younger and older women; (2) to investigate relationships among perceptions of risk, beliefs about disease etiology, and the adoption of healthful behaviors; (3) to identify psychosocial factors (e.g., optimism, social exposure to disease) that contribute to perceptions of disease risk; and (4) to explore the association of traditional gender roles with perceptions of disease risk. Exploratory analyses examining the extent to which objective risk factors moderate associations between psychosocial factors and perceptions of disease risk were also conducted. Survey data from 634 participants, including 454 younger (ages 18-25) and 180 older (ages 40 and above) women, were analyzed. Surveys included well-validated instruments and measures designed for this study.
Results confirm that women’s risk perceptions are multifactorial, based upon perceptions of personal risk, as well as perceptions of risk for others and estimates of the prevalence and mortality rates of a disease. Although perceptions of disease risk were unrelated to current levels of preventive behaviors, greater perceptions of risk were associated with screening behaviors in some women. Whereas social influences primarily contributed to younger women’s disease risk perceptions, both social influences and individual traits contributed to older women’s risk perceptions. Objective risk factors were largely unrelated to women’s global perceptions of risk for chronic disease. Older and younger women’s beliefs about disease risks differed, as did the influences on these groups of their dispositional traits and interpersonal relationships. Results have important implications for conceptualizing and measuring risk perceptions, and for investigating how perceived risk contributes to health behavior practices.
|School:||State University of New York at Stony Brook|
|School Location:||United States -- New York|
|Source:||DAI-B 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Social psychology, Public health|
|Keywords:||Chronic disease, Health beliefs, Psychosocial, Risk perception, Structural equation modeling, Women's health|
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