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Australian Study on Public Knowledge of Human Genetics and Health

Molster C.a · Charles T.a · Samanek A.a · O’Leary P.a, b, c
aOffice of Population Health Genomics, Health Policy and Clinical Reform Division, Department of Health, bSchool of Women’s and Infants’ Health, University of Western Australia, and cSchool of Public Health, Division of Health Sciences, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, W.A., Australia Public Health Genomics 2009;12:84–91 (DOI:10.1159/000164684)


Aims: This study was designed to obtain data on public understanding of genetic concepts in the adult population of Western Australia. It explored knowledge of genetic risk of disease, inheritance, biology, determinism, and factors that predict relatively higher genetic knowledge within the general population. Method: A cross-sectional telephone survey of 1,009 respondents. Results: Most members of the Western Australian community are aware of basic genetic concepts and the link between genes, inheritance, and risk of disease. Significantly fewer understand the biological mechanisms underlying these concepts and there was some misconception around the meaning of ‘increased genetic risk’. The odds of higher genetic knowledge (>19 out of 24 questions correct) were greater among those with 12 years or more education (OR = 3.0), those aged 18–44 years (OR = 2.3), women (OR = 2.0), those with annual household income of AUD 80,000 or more (OR = 1.8), and those who had talked with someone (OR = 1.7) or searched the internet (OR = 1.6) for information on genes and health. Conclusions: This study provides evidence of an association between social location and public knowledge of human genetic concepts related to health and disease. This is consistent with previous findings and raises questions about the acquisition of textbook genetics knowledge within socio-cultural contexts. The impact of misconceptions about genetic concepts on the uptake of preventive health behaviors requires further investigation, as does the level of genetics knowledge that is required to empower informed participation in individual and societal decisions about genetics and health.


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