Risk Perception for Developing Diabetes

Comparative risk judgments of physicians

  1. Elizabeth A. Walker, DNSC, RN1,
  2. C.K. Mertz, MRCP2,
  3. Maria R. Kalten, BS1 and
  4. James Flynn, PHD2
  1. 1Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Diabetes Research Center, Bronx, New York
  2. 2Decision Research, Eugene, Oregon
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Elizabeth A. Walker, DNSC, RN, Associate Professor of Medicine, Director, Prevention and Control Division, The Diabetes Research and Training Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1300 Morris Park Ave., Belfer Bldg., Rm. 701, Bronx, NY 10461. E-mail: walker{at}aecom.yu.edu


OBJECTIVE—To assess personal risk perceptions for developing diabetes among practicing physicians.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS—Little is known about comparative risk perceptions concerning diabetes among medical experts. We administered the new Risk Perception Survey for Developing Diabetes to 535 nondiabetic physicians. The participants were 86% male, had a mean age of 49 years, and were 66% white and 24% Asian. Almost 37% were considered at higher risk for developing diabetes based on self-reported risk factors. Over 91% of respondents were either internal medicine or family medicine physicians.

RESULTS—Of the four subscales, Comparative Disease Risk and Environmental Risk indicated moderate risk perceptions, whereas Personal Control scores indicated a robust sense of control over developing diabetes. Optimistic Bias scores showed a tendency toward participants’ being optimistic that they were less likely to develop diabetes. Based on self-reported risk factor categories, a comparison of scores between physicians at higher risk (n = 196) and those at lower risk (n = 313) for developing diabetes showed greater comparative disease risk perception among the higher risk physicians (P < 0.01), as well as greater perception of diabetes risk (P < 0.001). Nearly 50% of higher risk physicians, however, reported an optimistic bias that they were less likely to develop diabetes than other people of their same age and sex. Women (n = 75) reported greater perception of environmental risks than men (P < 0.001). Asian respondents (n = 126) reported greater perception of environmental risk (P < 0.001) and greater worry about developing diabetes (P < 0.0001) than white respondents (n = 355). Regression analyses showed that scores for nondiabetes comparative disease risks (0.39) and level of optimistic bias (0.31) were predictive of diabetes risk perception (P < 0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS—The data gathered on physicians’ perception of their personal risk for developing diabetes and other comparative risk judgments provided an expert comparison for future analyses of at-risk or lay individuals’ perceptions of diabetes risk. Effective communication of diabetes risk among physicians, patients, and the general public relies on knowledge of and sensitivity to group differences in these perceptions.


  • A table elsewhere in this issue shows conventional and Système International (SI) units and conversion factors for many substances.

    • Accepted June 2, 2003.
    • Received February 10, 2003.
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