Heart Age Test: Does it help or hinder? – Written by Victoria Riley
The Heart Age Test is an online test that estimates a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke in the form of a ‘Heart Age’, which can be compared to their actual age. The test aims to increase understanding of cardiovascular disease risk and provides information and access to resources to encourage people to reduce their risk through lifestyle changes such as improving diet and increasing exercise.
Since its launch in 2015, the Heart Age Test has received some criticism from researchers who suggested that it may overestimate risk, as heart age does not consider all lifestyle factors (i.e., diet, exercise) or other life circumstances, which can reduce cardiovascular disease risk. This could lead to unnecessary visits to the GP for reassurance.
Data from our recent evaluation of over 800 people who complete the test suggested that users understood the consequences of a higher estimated Heart Age, reported that their understanding of cardiovascular disease risk had improved and that they felt more confident in their ability to control their risk. There were some negative reactions to the test. This was often linked to scepticism over its accuracy (as raised by other researchers), especially as many users did not know their blood pressure (48.7%) or cholesterol (76.8%) numbers to enter when completing the test (this results in the test using a population average) and the limited information used to calculate estimated Heart Age. Despite this, many who participated in the evaluation suggested the test served as a ‘wakeup call’ and said they would or had already recommended it to others and would use it again to check their heart health. Many users also said they had made or intended to make changes to their lifestyle (i.e., lose weight, increase exercise) or were encouraged and motivated by the test to maintain lifestyle changes they had already made.
So does the Heart Age Test help or hinder people? The test is certainly not perfect, but no method for estimating health risk is. And it should be stressed that the outcome of the test is only an estimation of risk. Yet, our evaluation shows that heart age may be a good way to encourage people to evaluate their current lifestyle choices and to consider better choices to improve their health.
If you would like to read more about the research, you can gain full access to our evaluation report here.
Vicky is happy to talk about her research and can be contacted by email; Victoria.Riley@staffs.ac.uk and Twitter; @DRVictoriaRiley