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Can evidence-based messages about cancer prevention change behaviour?

May 12, 2017
Guylaine Spencer

If easy-to-understand information about cancer reaches the public, do these messages change what people know and think to do to stay healthy and reduce their risk of cancer? 

That is the question at the heart of a research study being led by School of Nursing professor, Dr. Maureen Dobbins and post-doctoral fellow Dr. Sarah Neil-Sztramko.

Dobbins and her team were recently awarded a Catalyst grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to undertake their study, “Evaluating the impact of the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal on knowledge, behavioural intentions and health behaviours related to cancer risk in underserved populations”.

According to the researchers, the goal of the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal is to be a trustworthy source for health information. Thousands of people are using the Portal and the knowledge-sharing strategies put in place (email alerts, Twitter and Facebook), with many more users added each month. Previous studies have measured the quality and trustworthiness of health information available online; while others have sought to understand the types of information used by different populations.

Researchers will tailor the Portal’s existing knowledge-sharing strategies to share the latest research on cancer prevention recommendations related to smoking, diet, physical activity and alcohol intake to adults aged 40 and older who have not previously been diagnosed with cancer. Study participants will sign up for a 12-week study period. During this time they will receive easy-to-understand messages about cancer prevention through weekly email alerts, Twitter and/or Facebook updates, and a dedicated webpage on the Portal.

Researchers will measure how often participants access these message and in which ways (eg. how often participants click on links). Online questionnaires (before the study starts, after the 12-week study period, and 3 months later) and interviews with a sample of participants will help them understand how access to trustworthy cancer prevention information changes what people know, intend and do to help lower their risk of cancer.

“We know the Portal is being accessed by thousands of users who are interested in learning about how to age optimally. With this grant we intend to determine if access to easy to understand, evidence-based messages makes a difference in people’s behaviour such that their risk for cancer is reduced,” says Dr. Maureen Dobbins.   

Grant details: PI: Dobbins MD; Co-applicants: Neil-Sztramko SE, Boyko J, Levinson A, Lavis J, Iorio A. Evaluating the impact of the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal on knowledge, behavioural intentions and health behaviours related to cancer risk in underserved populations. Canadian Institutes of Health Research: Catalyst Grant in Health Services and Health Economics Research for Cancer Control (Competitive)

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