Evaluating Risk Communication about Fish Consumption Advisories: Efficacy of a Brochure versus a Classroom Lesson in Spanish and English
Presentation format can influence the way target audiences understand risk-related information. Brochures or fish fact sheets are the methods traditionally used by state agencies to inform the public about fish consumption advisories and the risks from consuming fish. This study examines the efficacy of presenting information about the risks from consuming contaminated fish and shellfish in two different formats: a brochure and classroom presentation. The two instruments were developed and tested in Spanish and English, reflecting the local ethnic composition in the Newark Bay Complex. The instruments were tested on women of child-bearing age at the Women, Infants, and Children Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Detailed diagrams were used in both presentations, including contaminated fish species, fish preparation methods, and food chain bioaccumulation and transmission to the fetus. There were few language-related differences in the efficacy of the classroom lesson, and the main ideas were understood by both groups. Where there were significant differences in understanding about the risks from consuming fish or crabs from the contaminated waters of Newark Bay, in all cases the women exposed to the classroom lesson had a better understanding than those who read the brochure. Ninety-six percent of the women who heard the lesson understood that it was unsafe to eat fish from the port, compared to 72% of those reading the brochure. Both formats succeeded in imparting information to most women about the area under advisories, the fish species under advisories, and transmission of toxins to the fetus. Information on fish preparation was recalled less clearly, partly because women were asked to relate methods to reduce the risk from consuming fish from 11 presented, and most recalled only two or three of the list. The advantages and disadvantages of conducting short classes to women of child-bearing age are discussed.