Can communicating personalized disease risk promote healthy behaviour change? A systematic review of systematic reviews

David P French, Elaine Cameron, Jack S Benton, Christi Deaton, Michelle Harvie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The assessment and communication of disease risk that is personalized to the individual is widespread in healthcare contexts. Despite several systematic reviews of RCTs, it is unclear under what circumstances that personalized risk estimates promotes change in four key health-related behaviours: smoking, physical activity, diet and alcohol consumption.
Purpose: The present research aims to systematically identify, evaluate and synthesize the findings of existing systematic reviews.
Methods: This systematic review of systematic reviews followed published guidance. A search of four databases and two-stage screening procedure with good reliability identified nine eligible systematic reviews.

Results: The nine reviews each included between three and 15 primary studies, containing 36 unique studies. Methods of personalizing risk feedback included imaging/ visual feedback, genetic testing, and numerical estimation from risk algorithms. The reviews were generally high quality. For a broad range of methods of estimating and communicating risk, the reviews found no evidence that risk information had strong or consistent effects on health-related behaviours. The most promising effects came from interventions using visual or imaging techniques and with smoking cessation and dietary behaviour as outcomes, but with inconsistent results. Few interventions explicitly used theory, few targeted self-efficacy or response efficacy, and a limited range of Behaviour Change Techniques were used.

Conclusions: Presenting risk information on its own, even when highly personalized, does not produce strong effects on health-related behaviours or changes which are sustained. Future research in this area should build on the existing knowledge base about increasing the effects of risk communication on behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-729
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number5
Early online date13 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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