Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

What Does the Public Know about Environmental Health? A Qualitative Approach to Refining an Environmental Health Awareness Instrument

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

What Does the Public Know about Environmental Health? A Qualitative Approach to Refining an Environmental Health Awareness Instrument

Article excerpt


According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2011), environmental health focuses on the physical, chemical, and biological aspects peripheral to individuals as well as the interconnected factors influencing a person's behavior. Likewise, it also includes the impact of individuals on the environment. Thus, environmental health incorporates all environmentally related attributes that are capable of negatively affecting human health (Bearer, 1995; Morrone, 2001; WHO, 2011).

Although several studies have addressed aspects of environmental health (Chepesiuk, 2007; Dunlap & Van Liere, 1978; Howe, 1990; Scott & Willits, 1994; Tempte & McCall, 2001; Weigel & Weigel, 1978), the field is so broad that the studies do not present a comprehensive understanding of overall awareness of environmental health issues. For example, Tempte and McCall (2001) used a short 14-question survey (of which only seven questions addressed environmental health) to assess patient attitudes about environmental health and found that risk awareness was generally lacking. Burger and Gochfeld (2008) examined fish consumption and found that many people have heard about environmental health issues but fail to identify specific information about risks or benefits.

Prior to changing a behavior, individuals must have knowledge about both the risk factors and the methods by which risk factors can be reduced (Maibach & Cotton, 1995). Knowledge about an environmental issue or hazard can affect how one perceives and responds to a health risk. Unfortunately, many individuals do not realize the level of risk attributed to exposure to environmental hazards and the consequences to their health and well-being (Baird, 1986). Research has shown, however, that the higher the degree of personal injury and more uncertain the risk, the more individuals believe that the government should act to mitigate that risk (Dixon, Hendrickson, Ercolano, Quackenbush & Dixon, 2009; WHO, 2002).

In addition, the amount of knowledge an individual has concerning a topic directly impacts attitudes that are associated with health (Ratnapradipa, Brown, Middleton, & Wodika, 2011). Attitudes are vital because they can affect the behavior of an individual, such as preparing for an environmental risk or how to act during an environmental hazard (Andresen & Bouldin, 2010). Therefore, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors shape the basic components needed for health awareness, concern, and promotion. Gaining an understanding of the population's awareness is typically performed through the administering of established surveys (Baird, 1986; Bianco, Nobile, Gnisci, & Pavia, 2008; Dixon et al., 2009; Tempte & McCall, 2001). A comprehensive established survey does not exist, however, to measure the general public's knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about environmental health.

After the creation of novel survey questions, a focus group is generally conducted in order to assess the clarity and construct validity of the measure. By utilizing a focus group, researchers can ensure that the target population understands what is being asked and can therefore respond appropriately (Lobdell, Gilboa, Mendola, & Hesse, 2005). Focus groups work best when participants feel as though their opinions are being respected and that they can comment freely without being critiqued. Focus group interviews are made up of 4-10 people and have five main features. These components include people, unique characteristics, qualitative data, focused discussion, and a desire to understand the topic of interest (Krueger & Casey, 2009).

Study Purpose

The goal of our study was to refine a newly constructed environmental health survey instrument through focus group discussion. While many environmental health studies have incorporated the use of focus groups (Scammell, 2010), qualitative methods are not typically employed in this field (Lobdell et al. …

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