Student Research: Anna Schmidt

, Occupational & Environmental Exposure Sciences (OEES), 2011
Faculty Advisor: William E. Daniell

An Evaluation of Fish Consumption and Environmental Concern in Low Income and Food Insecure Populations in Seattle


Abstract

Environmental regulators use fish consumption rates in risk assessments to set water quality standards to protect human health. Accurate population based surveys on the amount of fish consumed are therefore critical in understanding the levels of chemical exposure from fish. 

This cross-sectional study evaluated levels of fish consumption and environmental concern among 199 food bank clients at the Rainier Valley and South Park food banks in South Seattle (African American (21%), Asian (25%), Caucasian (25%), Hispanic (21%), Native American (5%)).  The population interviewed represents a low-income, food insecure and largely minority population for which exposure to contaminants from fish consumption is only one of the health risks they face.  This population is also under-represented in local community participatory or stakeholder comment activities related to environmental contamination.

Key findings included: 1) high prevalence of study individuals who consume fish (96%;  compared to US population, 28%);  2) Asian participants had highest fish consumption rate (median, 117 g/day);   3) 40% of participants reported eating fish caught personally or by a family member;  4) level of environmental concern was higher on average than that of the United States population;   5) environmental concern was comparable to concern surrounding other social issues such as unemployment and the cost of health care.

The information gained about this marginalized and potentially vulnerable population is useful to 1) Seattle food banks in understanding the concerns and needs of their clients; 2) local community groups  for determining the most effective cleanup plans for the Duwamish River that adhere to community need; and 3) the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency to facilitate effective regulations, hazard communication and institutional controls for low income and minority populations.  The findings are also potentially applicable to other low-income, minority communities near contaminated sites and otherwise fishable waterways.

Finally, additional research is warranted to characterize fish consumption more broadly across low income or food insecure populations, beyond the more usual research focus on specific racial or ethnic groups who are known to have cultural or historical traditions associated with fishing or fish consumption.