Qualitative Environmental Health Research: An Analysis of the Literature, 1991-2008
Scammell, Madeleine Kangsen
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CitationScammell, Madeleine Kangsen. "Qualitative Environmental Health Research: An Analysis of the Literature, 1991-2008" Environmental Health Perspectives 118(8): 1146-1154. (2010)
BACKGROUND. Recent articles have advocated for the use of qualitative methods in environmental health research. Qualitative research uses nonnumeric data to understand people's opinions, motives, understanding, and beliefs about events or phenomena. OBJECTIVE. In this analysis of the literature, I report the use of qualitative methods and data in the study of the relationship between environmental exposures and human health. DATA SOURCES. A primary search on ISI Web of Knowledge/Web of Science for peer-reviewed journal articles dated from 1991 through 2008 included the following three terms: qualitative, environ*, and health. Inclusion and exclusion criteria are described. DATA EXTRACTION. Searches resulted in 3,155 records. Data were extracted and findings of articles analyzed to determine where and by whom qualitative environmental health research is conducted and published, the types of methods and analyses used in qualitative studies of environmental health, and the types of information qualitative data contribute to environmental health. DATA SYNTHESIS. Ninety-one articles met inclusion criteria. These articles were published in 58 different journals, with a maximum of eight for a single journal. The results highlight a diversity of disciplines and techniques among researchers who used qualitative methods to study environmental health, with most studies relying on one-on-one interviews. Details of the analyses were absent from a large number of studies. Nearly all of the studies identified increased scientific understanding of lay perceptions of environmental health exposures. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS. Qualitative data are published in traditionally quantitative environmental health studies to a limited extent. However, this analysis demonstrates the potential of qualitative data to improve understanding of complex exposure pathways, including the influence of social factors on environmental health, and health outcomes.