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Identifying environmental health priorities in underserved populations: a study of rural versus urban communities
  • Published Date:
    Nov 14 2013
  • Source:
    Public Health. 2013; 127(11):994-1004.
  • Language:
Filetype[PDF-556.61 KB]

  • Alternative Title:
    Public Health
  • Description:

    Understanding and effectively addressing persistent health disparities in minority communities requires a clear picture of members’ concerns and priorities. This study was intended to engage residents in urban and rural communities in order to identify environmental health priorities. Specific emphasis was placed on how the communities defined the term environment, their perceptions of environmental exposures as affecting their health, specific priorities in their communities, and differences in urban versus rural populations.

    Study design

    A community-engaged approach was used to develop and implement focus groups and compare environmental health priorities in urban versus rural communities.


    A total of eight focus groups were conducted: four in rural and four in urban communities. Topics included defining the term environment, how the environment may affect health, and environmental priorities within their communities, using both open discussion and a predefined list. Data were analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively to identify patterns and trends.


    There were important areas of overlap in priorities between urban and rural communities; both emphasized the importance of the social environment and shared a concern over air pollution from industrial sources. In contrast, for urban focus groups, abandoned houses and their social and physical sequelae were a high priority while concerns about adequate sewer and water services and road maintenance were high priorities in rural communities.


    This study was able to identify environmental health priorities in urban versus rural minority communities. In contrast to some previous risk perception research, the results of this study suggest prioritization of tangible, known risks in everyday life instead of rare, disaster-related events, even in communities that have recently experienced devastating damage from tornadoes. The findings can help inform future efforts to study, understand and effectively address environmental issues, and are particularly relevant to developing effective community-based strategies in vulnerable populations.

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