Speed of ageing – a new approach to risk perception?


  • J. Kollmann
  • N. Lages
  • L.J. Debbeler
  • H. Schupp
  • B. Renner


Background: A realistic perception of health risks is a precondition for preventive behaviour. However, virtually all measures of risk perception focus on the perceived likelihood of contracting a specific disease. We suggest a more intuitive and comprehensive risk perception measure that is the speed of ageing (SOA) caused by one’s own lifestyle. The present study assessed the perceived SOA in a community sample and tested the accuracy of perceptions in relation to lifestyle factors (eating behaviour, physical activity) and objective health status measures (clinical biomarkers, metabolic syndrome). Methods: Blood samples for clinical biomarkers (blood pressure, blood lipids, blood sugar) were collected at baseline as part of a longitudinal cohort study (Konstanz Life Study, Germany). Standardised written risk feedback based on these samples was given six weeks later. Risk perception was assessed concomitantly. Additionally, perceived SOA, physical activity and eating habits were assessed six months after receiving risk feedback (N = 105). Findings: Regression analyses revealed that physical activity (β ≥ -.46, p ≤ .01) and healthy eating behaviour (β ≥- .22, p ≤ .05) significantly co-varied with SOA, indicating that both health behaviours contributed to a decreased perceived speed of aging. However, no significant relation between SOA and biomarkers was found. Discussion: The present results suggest that perceived speed of ageing accurately reflects lifestyle behaviours. Importantly, it offers a behaviour-oriented rather than a disease-oriented measure of perceived health risk. Since it reflects risk perception across behaviour domains, it may offer a comprehensive but parsimonious new way of risk assessment.





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