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Americans Call Bioterrorism Most Urgent U.S. Health Problem

Americans Call Bioterrorism Most Urgent U.S. Health Problem

Cancer, healthcare costs still given high importance by the public

by Darren K. Carlson

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The fear of bioterrorism tops the list of Americans' most urgent healthcare concerns, supplanting previous health issues -- cancer and the cost of healthcare and insurance. The annual survey on health issues illustrates the changing landscape of Americans' priorities and problems following Sept. 11.

Twenty-two percent of Americans mention bioterrorism as the "most urgent health concern facing the country at this present time" in the Nov. 8-11 Gallup survey, marking the first time bioterrorism has appeared on this list since 1987. Cancer and the cost of healthcare and insurance were each mentioned by 19% of respondents. AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is mentioned by 7%, and heart disease by 6%. Just one percent of Americans name either smoking or alcohol/drug abuse as the most urgent health problem; another 17% mention some other specific health concern.

What would you say is the most urgent health problem facing this country at the present time? [Open-ended]

 

 

(C/I)

(BIO)

(CA)

(AI)

(HD)

(A/D)

(SM)

(M/H)

OTH

DK

                     
 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

2001 Nov 8-11

19

22

19

7

6

1

1

--

17

8

                     

2000 Sep 11-13

23

--

20

18

3

2

1

--

26

7

1999 Feb 8-9

13

--

23

34

5

2

2

2

22

6

1997 Oct 3-5

15

--

15

29

3

6

2

1

24

5

1992 Mar 26-29

30

--

5

41

2

--

--

--

18

4

1991 Nov 14-17

21

--

6

55

2

--

--

--

13

3

1991 May 2-5

12

--

16

45

2

4

*

2

13

4

1987 Oct 23-26

1

--

14

68

7

4

2

2

6

3



 

KEY: (AI) AIDS; (BIO) Bioterrorism/Anthrax/Smallpox; (CA) Cancer; (C/I) Healthcare costs/Insurance; (HD) Heart disease; (SM) Smoking; (M/H) Malnutrition/hunger; (A/D) Alcohol/Drug abuse; (OTH) Other; (DK) No opinion



Perceptions of Top Health Concern can Change Dramatically

Responses to this question illustrate the degree to which publicity and interest group or government focus on a particular health problem can affect Americans' urgency at a particular point in time. For example, the relevance of healthcare costs and insurance increased in the 1990s -- the high point of concern, 30%, was coincident with an increased interest in a comprehensive government healthcare plan. AIDS offers another clear example of the public's changing health priorities. In 1987, a majority of Americans (68%) said they believed AIDS was the most pressing health issue facing the country. Since then, the percentage of American adults mentioning AIDS has decreased steadily to its current level of 7%. Increased public awareness of treatment and prevention methods for HIV and AIDS undoubtedly played a part in the decline in public urgency regarding the disease.

The power of public awareness is most obvious when current perceptions of the most urgent health problem (bioterrorism) are compared to another item on the list -- heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and affects millions of Americans, and yet no more than 7% of Gallup Poll respondents have ever mentioned it as the nation's most urgent health problem. To date, anthrax attacks within America have resulted in 18 confirmed cases of anthrax and tragically killed five people, but stories of anthrax have been very prominent in the news over the past several weeks. Combined with a general fear of terrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, the public now views bioterrorism with a sense of urgency disproportionate to the total number of deaths it has caused.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,005 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Nov. 8-11, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/5074/americans-call-bioterrorism-most-urgent-us-health-problem.aspx
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