The role of ‘heart age’ and infographics in helping people understand cardiovascular disease risk

  • O. Damman
  • S. Vonk
  • M. Van den Haak
  • C. Van Hooijdonk
  • D. Timmermans


Background: We aimed to study how lay users’ comprehension of disease risks as provided by a risk calculator is influenced by: (1) using infographics about qualitative risk information, either with or without risk numbers; (2) emphasizing different qualitative risk dimensions in this information; (3) providing heart age versus a traditional risk number. Methods: One data collection (N=727) in which multiple experimental designs were used. For aim 1, a 2 (infographics vs. text) x 2 (risk number vs. no risk number) between-subjects design was used. For aim 2, the effects of three pieces of information were tested within-subjects , each emphasizing one risk dimension (causes, timeline, consequences). For aim 3, a post-test only control group design was used in which an additional condition who received only heart age was contrasted with the first condition of the 2x2 design (risk number). Participants received a hypothetical risk from a cardiovascular disease risk calculator. Outcome variables concerned recall, risk appraisals, behavioral intentions and information evaluation. ANOVA’s, ANCOVA’s and paired sampled t-tests were performed. Findings: The infographics negatively affected risk recall, subjective risk comprehension and evaluations. Risk perception was not influenced by type of risk dimension. Heart age appeared to positively influence recall, comprehension, and evaluations. It also increased affective risk appraisals. Discussion: Although infographics are widely used in health communication, they may have detrimental effects on lay users’ comprehension of disease risk. Heart age does seem to have positive effects on comprehension, but may also strongly influence negative affect, which is not always warranted.
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