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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] ‘Patients-in-waiting’: Even the perceived risk of disease prompts intention to act

From the 3 December 2014 Yale press release

Bubble_rev01_YaleNews(Photo via Shutterstock)

With so much focus on risk factors for disease, we are living in an era of surveillance medicine, in which the emphasis on risk blurs the lines between health and illness, argue researchers at Yale and Syracuse universities in a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Co-authors Rene Almeling, assistant professor of sociology at Yale, and Shana Kushner Gadarian, assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, conducted a nationwide survey of American adults to determine if healthy people react to hypothetical genetic risk information by wanting to take action.

The main finding of the study was that as the level of risk increases from 20% to 80%, people are more likely to want to take action of all kinds, including seeking information about the disease, managing risk by taking medications or undergoing surgery, consulting family members, organizing finances, and participating in community and political events.

The results of the survey showed the importance of risk information even to healthy people, suggesting that the experience of living between health and disease is not just limited to those who are already patients. “Social scientists have argued that we are now treating risk as if it were a disease, and these results provide strong evidence for that claim,” says Almeling.

Participants were asked if they have a family member or close friend with the disease to which they had been assigned to assess whether experience with the disease increased their interest in taking action. The researchers were startled to find that seeing a disease up close did not make much difference; across the board, people responded to the hypothetical risk information by wanting to take action.

The survey questions were hypothetical, but the issues that the study raises are real, note the researchers, adding that people use risk information to make significant medical decisions, such as whether to increase the frequency of cancer screenings or undergo prophylactic surgery.

“It is extremely important for social scientists and clinicians to understand how people respond to these risk numbers and how they are being used to make important life decisions,” says Almeling. She added, “Studies like this can aid health care providers in offering genetic information with sufficient context to insure that people make the best decisions for themselves.”

Given that people throughout the population — from the healthy to the sick and those with and without a family history of disease — had largely identical reactions suggests that normality has indeed become precarious and that we are all patients-in-waiting, say the researchers.

 

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Psychology, Public Health | , , , , , | 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

   

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