Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Robert C. Hornik
Protecting children from environmental threats like lead poisoning and pesticides is becoming a greater public health priority. Research dedicated to prenatal and pediatric environmental health (PPEH) coupled with the green movement and increasingly intensive parenting has created a new, dynamic environment in which information can play a critical role in determining protective behaviors. New and expecting mothers particularly vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment are exposed to health information from a variety of sources, including the mass media. Despite several decades of environmental and health communication research, the nature and effects of environmental health information available to mothers have received limited research attention.
This dissertation launches a new exploration into environmental health communication by asking three overarching research questions: (1) how prevalent is PPEH information in the media, (2) is mothers' exposure to such information linked to key outcomes - namely, protective behaviors, behavioral intentions, knowledge, descriptive norms, and perceived threat, and (3) are the effects of such exposure contingent on the relative volume of media coverage PPEH topics receive? To address these questions, four studies were conducted. Study 1, an elicitation survey, determines where mothers routinely come across, or scan, PPEH information and how they conceptualize toxic threats. Study 2, a content analysis of popular media sources (i.e., the Associated Press (AP), parenting magazines, and parenting websites), focuses on the first research question. Study 3, a cross-sectional survey, addresses the second question, while Study 4 combines data from Studies 2 and 3 to address the third. While Studies 1 and 2 examine multiple PPEH issues, the latter two studies focus in on three chemical toxins: arsenic, bisphenol A (BPA), and pesticides.
Results show that PPEH information is prevalent on parenting websites and exists to a lesser extent in AP stories and parenting magazines. Perhaps more importantly, there is evidence that mothers scan this information and that scanning is associated with certain positive outcomes. The observed differences between the effects of media scanning at different levels of coverage volume were in a direction not entirely consistent with study hypotheses. Implications of these findings for communication research and practice are discussed.
Mello, Susan L., "Toxic? The Nature and Effects of Mothers' Exposure to Pediatric Environmental Health information in the Media" (2013). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 779.