Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Report] One Year after West, Texas: One in Ten Students Attends School in the Shadow of a Risky Chemical Facility

Of course, just because a facility is associated with hazardous chemicals doesn’t mean an accident will happen.

Still, I was surprised at just how many students go to schools so close to these facilities.

 

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Full Text Reports...

One Year after West, Texas: One in Ten Students Attends School in the Shadow of a Risky Chemical Facility
Source: Center for Effective Government

One year after the fertilizer facility explosion in West, Texas, which destroyed and severely damaged nearby schools, an analysis by the Center for Effective Government finds that nearly one in ten American schoolchildren live and study within one mile of a potentially dangerous chemical facility.

The analysis, displayed through an online interactive map, shows that 4.6 million children at nearly 10,000 schools across the country are within a mile of a facility that reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program. Factories, refineries, and other facilities that report to the program produce, use, and/or store significant quantities of certain hazardous chemicals identified by EPA as particularly risky to human health or the environment if they are spilled, released into the air, or are…

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April 29, 2014 Posted by | environmental health, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Vaccine Risk Perceptions and Ad Hoc Risk Communication: An Empirical Assessment | Full Text Reports…

Vaccine Risk Perceptions and Ad Hoc Risk Communication: An Empirical Assessment 

From the Social Science Research Network

Vaccine Risk Perceptions and Ad Hoc Risk Communication: An Empirical Assessment by Dan M. Kahan
Yale University – Law School; Harvard University – Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
January 27, 2014

CCP Risk Perception Studies Report No. 17

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Abstract: 

This Report presents empirical evidence relevant to assessing the claim — reported widely in the media and other sources — that the public is growing increasingly anxious about the safety of childhood vaccinations.

Based on survey and experimental methods (N = 2,316), the Report presents two principal findings:
first, that vaccine risks are neither a matter of concern for the vast majority of the public nor an issue of contention among recognizable demographic, political, or cultural subgroups;

and second, that ad hoc forms of risk communication that assert there is mounting resistance to childhood immunizations themselves pose a risk of creating misimpressions and arousing sensibilities that could culturally polarize the public and diminish motivation to cooperate with universal vaccination programs.

Based on these findings the Report recommends that government agencies, public health professionals, and other constituents of the public health establishment

       (1) promote the use of valid and appropriately focused empirical methods for investigating vaccine-risk perceptions and formulating responsive risk communication strategies;
       (2) discourage ad hoc risk communication based on impressionistic or psychometrically invalid alternatives to these methods;
       (3) publicize the persistently high rates of childhood vaccination and high levels of public support for universal immunization in the U.S.;
       and (4) correct ad hoc communicators who misrepresent U.S. vaccination coverage and its relationship to the incidence of childhood diseases.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 82
The report may be downloaded for free at the above URL

 

Some excerpts from the report

A. Findings    

1. There is deep and widespread public consensus, even among groups strongly divided on other issues such as climate change and evolution, that childhood vaccinations make an essential contribution to public health. …

2. In contrast to other disputed science issues, public opinion on the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines is not meaningfully affected by differences in either science comprehension or religiosity. …

3. The public’s perception of the risks and benefits of vaccines bears the signature of a gen- eralized affective evaluation, which is positive in a very high proportion of the population. …

4. Among the manifestations of the public’s positive orientation toward childhood vaccines is the perception that vaccine benefits predominate over vaccine risks and a high degree of confi- dence in the judgment of public health officials and experts. …

…..

B. Normative and prescriptive conclusions

1. Risk communicators—including journalists, advocates, and public health professionals— should refrain from conveying the false impression that a substantial proportion of parents or of the public generally doubts vaccine safety.

2. Risk communicators should avoid resort to the factually unsupportable, polemical trope that links vaccine risk concerns to climate-change skepticism and to disbelief in evolution as evi- dence of growing societal distrust in science.

….

Remember, correlation does not equal causation!
And the selection of variables (as gun ownership) may be questioned by some…
Still, an interesting graph

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February 1, 2014 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] More Research Needed Into Substitution Principle and Regulation of Potentially Hazardous Chemical Materials, Experts Urge

From the 12 November 2013 ScienceDaily news item

Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, Professor of Risk Management and the Director of the King’s Institute for Risk Research, King’s College London and Editor of the Journal of Risk Research, has published a paper suggesting that the substitution principle is not the “white knight” as described by a number of regulatory agencies and NGOs and proposes that chemical substitution can only work effectively on a case-by-case basis.

The paper, published in the Journal of Risk Research, highlights how the Chemical Substitution Principle (where a potentially harmful chemical used in manufacturing or industry, is substituted for less dangerous alternative) has grown in popularity with chemical governing bodies and organizations in recent years. It highlights how a number of bodies are currently working on ‘substitution databases’ to aid companies in reducing the amount of harmful chemicals they use. The paper draws on three key case studies and states that the chemical substitution principle is a ‘blunt and imprecise regulatory instrument’ that is ‘surprisingly under-researched’ and ‘in need of further rigorous academic and regulatory analysis before it can be further used and promoted satisfactory in the chemical control area.’

Lofstedt uses evidence discussed in the paper to make recommendations for the future use of the chemical substitution principle, including the abolition of numerical targets set by regulatory bodies such as the European Chemical Agency for listing chemical substances of very high concern (SVHCs), and that, if the substitution principle is to be properly implemented, there is a need to do ‘comparative risk evaluations or risk-ranking exercises, to uncover how great the risk profile of the chemical in question actually is’.

The paper further suggests that greater support for evidence-based substitution and academic research into the scientific underpinnings of the chemical substitution principle is needed, along with a need for clear case studies and scientifically informed debates to help politicians become better informed about the pros and cons of the substitution principle.

Read the entire article here

 

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

News that is better or worse than expected influences health decisions

From the 29 October 2013 University of California – Riverside press release

UCR psychologist finds that unrealistic pessimists less likely to take preventive action after receiving good news

 IMAGE: This is Kate Sweeny.

Click here for more information. 

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Patients who are unrealistically optimistic about their personal health risks are more likely to take preventive action when confronted with news that is worse than expected, while unrealistic pessimists are less likely to change their behavior after receiving feedback that is better than expected, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

This poses a serious dilemma for health care professionals, said study authors Kate Sweeny, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside, and co-author Amanda Dillard, assistant professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University: Should they withhold accurate risk information from unrealistic pessimists to avoid undermining their perceptions of the severity of their potential consequences and ultimately their motivation for preventive behavior?

“The question reveals a tension between the goals of health-behavior promotion and informed patient decision-making that has plagued researchers in several health domains, most notably with regard to women’s often overly pessimistic perceptions of their breast cancer risk,” Sweeny and Dillard wrote in “The Effects of Expectation Disconfirmation on Appraisal, Affect, and Behavioral Intentions,” published this month in the online edition of Risk Analysis: An International Journal. The journal is an official publication of the Society for Risk Analysis, a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, scholarly, international society based in McLean, Va.

“Our findings cannot resolve this tension, but rather point to the need for further consideration of the potential consequences of risk communication,” the researchers said.

Sweeny and Dillard are the first to demonstrate that how an individual reacts and responds to objective risk feedback may depend on initial expectations prior to the feedback.

The psychologists conducted a series of experiments in which participants were told they would be tested for exposure to toxins found in everyday products. The researchers found that people who received risk feedback that was worse than expected expressed stronger intentions to prevent the threat in the future than did people who received risk feedback that was better than expected. All study participants received the same health feedback; only the expectations of the participants differed.

“Our findings add critical pieces to the previously incomplete picture of the consequences of expectation disconfirmation,” they wrote. “Ours is the first experimental investigation of the relationship between expectation disconfirmation and behavioral intentions in the context of personal risk perceptions, and the first study to examine the process by which intentions might rise or fall in response to unexpected risk feedback.”

Contrary to findings in other recent studies, Sweeny and Dillard determined that when people are faced with objective feedback that differs from their perceptions of health risks, they may adapt their behavior to fit the new risk information.

“In our studies, participants who learned that their risk was higher than they expected … formed relative strong intentions to take preventive action,” they said. They also found that people who learned that their risk was lower than expected felt relatively good in the face of feedback and formed relatively weak intentions to take preventive action. All of the study participants received the same health risk feedback.

“Our findings point to an important tradeoff people face when managing their expectations as they await feedback: maintaining optimism leaves people open to disappointment, but bracing for the worst may undermine future motivation to improve,” they said. “… It seems that people find the emotional consequences of being caught off-guard more compelling than the potential for elation to undermine their motivation to change their behavior in response to feedback.”

 

 

 

 

October 30, 2013 Posted by | health care, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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