What is the role of knowledge, perceived vulnerability and level of risk of infertility in women's intentions to take action to improve their chance of becoming pregnant (i.e. by seeking medical and/or non-medical help and making lifestyle changes)?
Women younger than age 35 were more likely to intend to take measures to improve their chance of conceiving when they were knowledgeable about fertility and felt susceptible to infertility; however, there was no such association in older women.
The majority of young adults wish to become parents but many are jeopardizing their chances by engaging in behaviours that decrease fertility (e.g. smoking, not seeking timely medical advice when faced with problems conceiving). Research is needed to establish what motivates people to take steps to optimize their chances of pregnancy. The Health Belief Model (HBM) postulates that knowledge and beliefs about susceptibility to infertility are critical in whether people will engage in fertility-optimizing behaviours.
This cross-sectional survey included 1345 childless women (trying to conceive and having never engaged in fertility medical treatment) from the International Fertility Decision-Making Study (IFDMS).
Infertility risk factors were determined using the FertiSTAT. The Cardiff Fertility Knowledge Scale (CFKS) assessed fertility knowledge. Perceived susceptibility was defined as whether a fertility problem was suspected. The outcome measure was intentions to optimize one's fertility by making lifestyle changes and/or seeking help.
In this study, 75.5% of women had an infertility risk factor and 60.3% suspected a fertility problem. The average correct score on the CFKS was 51.9%. Intentions to optimize fertility were lower among women who were heavy smokers (P < 0.05) and who had been trying to conceive for a year or over (P < 0.01), while intentions to optimize fertility were greater among those with a higher body mass index or greater knowledge and those who suspected a fertility problem (all P < 0.001). These overall effects were qualified in some subgroups. Heavy smokers were more likely to intend to seek medical help when they had greater knowledge (P < 0.001) and women having difficulty conceiving were more likely to intend to seek medical help if they felt susceptible to infertility (P < 0.001). Heavy smokers who were knowledgeable intended to change their lifestyle only when they felt they had a fertility problem (P < 0.01). Intentions to change were not dependent on knowledge and perceived susceptibility in older women.
The data were cross-sectional and thus we cannot infer causality. The results may have been affected by the sample profile, which was biased towards high levels of perceived susceptibility and low levels of knowledge.
To maximize impact, educational campaigns should take into account the presence and type of infertility risk factors in the target audience.
Merck-Serono S. A. Geneva-Switzerland (an affiliate of Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, UK) funded this project (RES-355-25-0038, 'Fertility Pathways Network'). L.B. is funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the ESRC (PTA-037-27-0192). B.F. is funded by an interdisciplinary PhD studentship from the ESRC/MRC (ES/1031790/1). I.T. is an employee of Merck-Serono S.A. Geneva-Switzerland (an affiliate of Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany).