Age differences in genetic knowledge, health literacy and causal beliefs for health conditions

S. Ashida, M. Goodman, C. Pandya, L. M. Koehly, C. Lachance, J. Stafford, K. A. Kaphingst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: This study examined the levels of genetic knowledge, health literacy and beliefs about causation of health conditions among individuals in different age groups. Methods: Individuals (n = 971) recruited through 8 community health centers in Suffolk County, New York, completed a one-time survey. Results: Levels of genetic knowledge were lower among individuals in older age groups (26-35, p = 0.011; 36-49, p = 0.002; 50 years and older, p<0.001) compared to those in the youngest age group (18-25). Participants in the oldest age group also had lower health literacy than those in the youngest group (p <0.001). Those in the oldest group were more likely to endorse genetic (OR = 1.87, p = 0.008) and less likely to endorse behavioral factors like diet, exercise and smoking (OR = 0.55, p = 0.010) as causes of a person's body weight than those in the youngest group. Higher levels of genetic knowledge were associated with higher likelihood of behavioral attribution for body weight (OR = 1.25, p <0.001). Conclusions: Providing additional information that compensates for their lower genetic knowledge may help individuals in older age groups benefit from rapidly emerging genetic health information more fully. Increasing the levels of genetic knowledge about common complex diseases may help motivate individuals to engage in health promoting behaviors to maintain healthy weight through increases in behavioral causal attributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-316
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Health Genomics
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Causal beliefs
  • Community-based sample
  • Genetic communication
  • Genetic knowledge
  • Health literacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Genetics(clinical)


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