222568 Genetic literacy among college students: The best-case scenario

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Heather H. Goltz, PhD, LMSW , Department of Social Sciences, University of Houston-Downtown, Houston, TX
Sandra Acosta, PhD(c) , Department of Educational Psychology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
David Latini, PhD , Houston VA HSR&D Center of Excellence, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston, TX
Patricia Goodson, PhD , Department of Health & Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Introduction: While health and scientific literacy are commonly studied phenomena, fewer studies have explored genetic/genomic literacy (GL). GL is essential to creating a public and genomic workforce capable of maximizing program/technology usage and informed decision-making. The present study explores GL among majors and non-majors from two southwestern U.S. universities.

Methods: We used data from a web-based cross-sectional survey of genetic knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intentions. Participants (N=2,576) were primarily young (M=23.4 years), Caucasian (66.3%), and female (64.8%). Univariate/bivariate/multivariate analyses were used to examine respondents' GL, assessed using a 6-item test. Five items were close-ended; item 6 required correct identification of 8 genetic disorders from a list of 37 health/psychological problems. Results: Most respondents had never taken genetics (82.2%) and were non-biology/genetics majors (81.1%). When analyzed by racial/ethnic groups, Whites' scored significantly higher on the GL test than Hispanics or “Other” (Χ2=94.517, p<.001, Φ= .192). Biology majors had significantly higher GL than non-majors (Χ2=403.068, p<.001, Φ= .397). However, 23.5% of majors and 58.5% of non-majors had low GL (scored “6 or less” of 13 points). Male majors (M= 8.8) had slightly higher, but not significant, mean scores than female majors (M= 8.6).

Conclusion/Implications for Practice: Overall, participants exhibited low-to-moderate GL, depending on exposure to biology/genetics curricula. Survey results indicate a need for comprehensive genetic/genomic education, even among those considered highly literate or health professionals-in-training. Further research is also needed to establish the GL necessary for public and professional competency.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related education
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify and discuss at least 2 dimensions of genetic literacy that were problematic for survey respondents. 2. Compare and contrast genetic literacy scores between biology/genetics majors and non-majors. 3. Discuss at least 3 implications of low genetic literacy health professionals-in-training for public health genomics.

Keywords: Genetics, Public Health Education

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I served as the Principal Investigator for this study. I also led data collection and analysis efforts and am lead author on any manuscripts from the qualitative or quantitative datasets. In terms of academic qualifications, I am a doctorally-trained health educator and a masters-level social worker.
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.