The effect of health messaging on sedentary behaviour risk perceptions: Does immediacy of risk matter?


The past decade has seen increasing research on sedentary behaviour (SB) reduction, such as environmental interventions, wearable technology, and policy. However, there is little evidence to suggest that these resource-intensive interventions produce clinically-significant changes in behaviour. One potential explanation for this limitation is a poor understanding of sedentary psychology (Biddle, 2011), including individuals' perceptions of SB as a health risk. For instance, whereas empirical work tends to emphasise SB's relationship with chronic disease (e.g., Tremblay et al, 2010), early research suggests individuals associate SB with musculoskeletal pain, poor fitness, and negative emotions (Gierc & Brawley, 2014; Gilson et al, 2011). The purpose of this study was to examine two questions. First, can a simple health education message about SB risk affect individuals' perceptions of SB? Second, does the type of risk information presented matter? Participants (N=175) completed an online questionnaire. After obtaining baseline beliefs and knowledge of SB, they were randomised to receive one of three messages: control, proximal risk, or distal risk. Messages were followed by scaled items on perceptions of SB (e.g., "I think SB is a health risk to me"). Analysis indicated no between-group differences in message readability or quality, p>0.05. Significant differences were observed between participants who received risk information (proximal/distal) versus those randomised to the control, ?=0.874, F(8,154)=2.764, p<0.01. No differences were found between participants receiving proximal versus distal information, p>0.05. Collectively, results suggest that the receipt of any information regarding the health risks of SB may be an effective way to increase risk perceptions about prolonged sitting.