Health, Risk & Society
URL with Digital Object Identifier
There is a growing awareness and concern in contemporary societies about potential health impacts of environmental contaminants on children. Mothers are traditionally more involved than other family members in managing family health and household decisions and thus targeted by public health campaigns to minimise risks. However little is known about how new mothers perceive and experience environmental health risks to their children. In 2010, we undertook a parallel case study using qualitative, in-depth interviews with new mothers and focus groups with public health key informants in two Public Health Units in Ontario Province, Canada. We found that the concern about environmental hazards among participants ranged from having no concerns to actively incorporating prevention into daily life. Overall, there was a common perception among participants that many risks, particularly in the indoor environment, were controllable and therefore of little concern. But environmental risks that originate outside the home were viewed as less controllable and more threatening. In response to such threats, mothers invoked coping strategies such as relying on the capacity of children's bodies to adapt. Regardless of the strategies adopted, actions (or inactions) were contingent upon active information seeking. We also found an optimistic bias in which new mothers reported that other children were at greater risk despite similar environmental circumstances. The findings suggest that risk communication experts must attend to the social and environmental contexts of risk and coping when designing strategies around risk reducing behaviours.