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European public perceptions of food risk: Cross-national and Methodological Comparisons

Hohl, K. & Gaskell, G. (2008). European public perceptions of food risk: Cross-national and Methodological Comparisons. Risk Analysis: an international journal, 28(2), pp. 311-324. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2008.01021.x


This article presents a comparative study of public perceptions of food risk across 25 European member states. A secondary data analysis is conducted on a Eurobarometer survey fielded to nationally representative samples in 2005. The survey included closed questions as well as free associations to map risk perceptions. Taking a quantitative approach, we find that people in a majority of European countries express similar levels of concern about food risks. However, outside this majority a North-South divide is evident, with the Northern countries worrying less than the Southern countries. Multilevel modeling shows that cross-national differences in individual respondents' level of worry are in part attributable to shared country effects and to generalized risk sensitivity about a range of personal risks. On the underlying structure of food risk concerns, factor analysis points to three dimensions described by groupings of risks related to adulteration and contamination, health effects, and production and hygiene. A qualitative analysis of respondents' free associations about problems and risks with food identifies three major themes that are consistent with the quantitative results. However, the free associations also point toward greater cross-national diversity and to striking variations in the range and importance of food risks. Overall, the picture is of a public that frames food risks in a wider context of beliefs about the links between diet and health. We conclude with some implications for research on food risk perceptions in particular and risk perception studies in general.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: European cross-national; food; qualitative methods; quantitative methods; risk perception
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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