199630 Black and white Americans' understandings of genetics

Monday, November 9, 2009: 11:10 AM

Kurt D. Christensen, MPH , Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Toby Jayaratne, PhD , Health Behavior & Health Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
J. Scott Roberts, PhD , Department of Health Behavior & Health Education, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI
Sharon Kardia, PhD , Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI
Elizabeth Petty, MD , Departments of Internal Medicine and Human Genetics, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI
BACKGROUND. Poor genetic literacy among the U.S. public is often cited as a barrier to the safe integration of genetics into healthcare and public health. Few studies explore the issue quantitatively, though, especially with respect to similarities and differences between groups in how they understand genetics. This study compares white and black Americans' understandings of genetics and identifies demographic and attitudinal factors associated with levels of understanding.

METHODS. A structured telephone survey of 600 white and 600 black Americans asking subjects to respond to an 8-item measure of genetic understanding developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts in the field.

RESULTS. 94% responded correctly on at least one of two items about Mendelian inheritance. Less than half responded correctly on all other items. Among white respondents, education, younger age, interest in genetics, and perceived understanding of genetics were associated with higher overall understanding scores (p < .05 each). No demographic or attitudinal variable was predictive of overall understanding scores for black respondents. White and black participants had comparable overall understanding scores (mean = 3.6 vs. 3.5, respectively) but differed in their levels of understandings about where genes are located in the body and whether genes determine race (p < .01).

CONCLUSION. Misunderstandings about genetics are common among the U.S. public. White and black Americans have comparable overall understandings of genetics but differ in what they understand about specific topics. These findings can aid the development of targeted educational strategies.

Learning Objectives:
Identify genetic concepts that Americans understand and misunderstand. Compare how self-identified black and white Americans understand genetics.

Keywords: Genetics, African American

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a PhD student with a focus on behavioral responses to genetic information. Furthermore, I have published on incorporating race into behavioral research about genetics and on genetic knowledge among health care providers.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.