Background: When communicating risks to the general population, the format of the epidemiological results may affect individual reactions. In environmental epidemiology, no study has compared the use of different statistical formats in communicating results to the population. The aim of this paper is to investigate whether the degree of concern expressed by residents of a high environmental risk site, regarding epidemiological results on cancer mortality in the area where they live, is influenced by the statistical indicator used in communication. Methods: A sample of residents in the high environmental risk area of Livorno (Italy) was randomized to respond to different questionnaires, in which the same epidemiological results were expressed by two alternative risk indexes: percent excess risk and time needed to harm, defined as the number of days that one has to wait for, on average, to observe 1 death in excess in respect to the baseline. Participants were asked to express their concern on a quantitative scale or to rank different diseases according to their impressions. The statistical analysis was performed using an Inverse Probability of Treatment Weighting approach based on propensity score, in order to account for sample stratification and adjust for unbalance between groups occurring despite randomization. Results: The probability of high concern levels was larger under time needed to harm than under percent excess, with a difference between proportions of 6.7% (95% Confidence Interval, 0.6,12.8%). Mortality from sexual glands cancer was ranked as more worrisome and mortality from thyroid gland cancer as less worrisome under time needed to harm than under percent excess. No rank change was found for lung cancer. Larger differences between the two indicators arose in subjects with higher education or better numerical skills. Conclusions: Communicating epidemiological results to the population is not a neutral task. The degree of concern and judgments when comparing results on different diseases may depend on the risk indicators used. Translating scientific results into lay language should not exempt from careful evaluation of the impact of this translation on lay people.

Comparison of two statistical indicators in communicating epidemiological results to the population: a randomized study in a high environmental risk area of Italy

Farinella, Domenica;
2019-01-01

Abstract

Background: When communicating risks to the general population, the format of the epidemiological results may affect individual reactions. In environmental epidemiology, no study has compared the use of different statistical formats in communicating results to the population. The aim of this paper is to investigate whether the degree of concern expressed by residents of a high environmental risk site, regarding epidemiological results on cancer mortality in the area where they live, is influenced by the statistical indicator used in communication. Methods: A sample of residents in the high environmental risk area of Livorno (Italy) was randomized to respond to different questionnaires, in which the same epidemiological results were expressed by two alternative risk indexes: percent excess risk and time needed to harm, defined as the number of days that one has to wait for, on average, to observe 1 death in excess in respect to the baseline. Participants were asked to express their concern on a quantitative scale or to rank different diseases according to their impressions. The statistical analysis was performed using an Inverse Probability of Treatment Weighting approach based on propensity score, in order to account for sample stratification and adjust for unbalance between groups occurring despite randomization. Results: The probability of high concern levels was larger under time needed to harm than under percent excess, with a difference between proportions of 6.7% (95% Confidence Interval, 0.6,12.8%). Mortality from sexual glands cancer was ranked as more worrisome and mortality from thyroid gland cancer as less worrisome under time needed to harm than under percent excess. No rank change was found for lung cancer. Larger differences between the two indicators arose in subjects with higher education or better numerical skills. Conclusions: Communicating epidemiological results to the population is not a neutral task. The degree of concern and judgments when comparing results on different diseases may depend on the risk indicators used. Translating scientific results into lay language should not exempt from careful evaluation of the impact of this translation on lay people.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11570/3153337
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