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BACKGROUND: Offspring of people with type 2 diabetes underestimate their risk of developing the disease and know little about primary prevention. However, education about risk might cause psychological harm. AIM: To examine cognitive and psychological effects of education about personal risk. METHOD: Patients with type 2 diabetes were recruited from randomly selected general practices. One of their adult offspring was randomly selected and randomly allocated into one of three groups: 1. Group 1: given an initial interview, education, and a final interview; 2. Group 2: given an initial and final interview; and 3. Group 3: given one interview only. Psychological outcomes were assessed using Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HAD) and Positive Well-Being Scale (PWB) scores. RESULTS: Sixty-nine per cent (105/152) of eligible offspring participated. Ninety-one per cent (96/152) completed the study. Comparing first and final interviews, in Group 1, significantly fewer responders at final interview (after education) thought that their risk of developing diabetes was 'low' (65% versus 41%, P = 0.027), while in Group 2, there was no significant change in risk perception (P = 0.13). Significantly fewer people in the educated group (Group 1, final interview) than in the control group (Group 3) thought their risk of developing diabetes was 'low' (41% versus 77%, P = 0.002). Risk education did not affect total HAD scores or PWB scores significantly. CONCLUSION: Educating offspring of people with type 2 diabetes in this way about their risk of diabetes and possible preventive strategies increases their perception of personal risk but does not cause psychological harm.