Objectives Although health messages communicating the role of genetics in health and disease development are increasingly prevalent in our society, no research has examined whether the general public perceives such messages as believable or personally relevant. We examined whether the general public accepted genetic health messages and viewed them personally relevant in promoting their preventive behaviour. Design Experimental pre-test-post-test measurement design was employed to contrast the information acceptance and perceived personal relevance of the genetic health message with a general health message. Methods We presented a randomly selected group of Dutch participants (N=1,319) with either a health message about the genetic risk factors for salt sensitivity or with a general health message about salt sensitivity without reference to genetic risk factors. Risk perception and intention to restrict salt intake was assessed before and after participants read the messages while information acceptance and perceived personal relevance was only assessed post-test. Results Although we observed no effects of health message type on information processing, previously aware participants perceived the genetic health message as less personally relevant compared to the general health message. This difference in personal relevance resulted in lower estimates of susceptibility and a lower intention to engage in preventive behaviour among previously unaware participants. Conclusions Genetic health messages in the mass media may not be effective in promoting (intentions to engage in) preventive behaviour due to their low perceived personal relevance by the public. Hence, identifying strategies to increase personal relevance for genetic education is needed.
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