Fishing, fish consumption, and awareness about warnings in a university community in central New Jersey in 2007, and comparisons with 2004
AbstractFish are a healthy source of protein, but the risks from consuming fish have become a national concern. Over the past 7 years, there have been a number of national advisories regarding saltwater fish. Fish consumption patterns and public knowledge about advisories and warnings have been examined for at-risk populations, but there is little information about the latter for a general population, or of temporal trends in such information acquisition. Information about the benefits and health risks of consuming fish, health warnings from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Food and Drug Administration, belief in these warnings, and trust in different sources of information were examined in a sample of 460 people within a university community in central New Jersey in 2007. The null hypothesis of no differences in fishing, consumption, and knowledge about advisories as a function of age, gender, ethnicity, and education was tested. In 2007, only 30% of the study population fished, and 83% of the study population ate fish, either commercial or self-caught. There were differences in fishing behavior, consumption patterns, and awareness of advisories as a function of gender, ethnicity, age, and education. Most notably, nearly twice as many men as women fished, Whites fished more and Blacks and Indian/Pakistanis fished less than other ethnic groups, and people aged 23–35 fished more than did others. About 8% of fish meals were from self-caught fish, 32% were eaten in restaurants, and 60% were of fish bought in stores and cooked at home. Men ate more meals of self-caught fish than did females, and Asians ate more meals of fish in restaurants, and Blacks ate more meals of store-bought fish than other ethnic groups. The total number of fish meals consumed per month increased significantly with age. Overall, more people had heard about the benefits (92%) than the risks (78%) of fish consumption. When asked whom they trust for information about health benefits and risks from eating fish, doctors were rated the highest, followed by professors; friends and fishermen were rated the lowest. We then examined whether there were any changes from 2004 to 2007 in the knowledge of the health benefits and warnings about fish consumption, and the trustworthiness of different sources of information. In other words, have communication efforts of the state and federal agencies resulted in any appreciable increase in overall awareness of the benefits or risks of fish consumption. The greatest change in the parameters examined from 2004 to 2007 was an overall decrease in fish consumption from an average of 7.9 meals per month in 2004 to about six meals per month in 2007. This suggests that the unintended effect of some of the warnings and advisories is to decrease overall fish consumption, rather than to switch from fish species with high levels of contaminants to those with low levels.