Public knows no more about genetics than in 1990, U-M study shows

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Despite a decade of highly publicized advances in genetics, U.S. adults know no more about genetic testing than they did in 1990, according to a University of Michigan study.

"The public needs to have more and better education about genetics," said Eleanor Singer, lead author of the study and a senior research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic survey and research organization.

For the study, Singer and ISR colleagues Toni Antonucci and John Van Hoewyk compared data from a random-digit-dialed national survey of 1,006 respondents conducted in 1990 with data from later national surveys, including a random-digit-dialed survey of 1,824 respondents conducted in 2000.

The topics included attitudes toward prenatal testing, abortion, genetic testing in the workplace, genetic testing for adult-onset untreatable diseases and a series of true-or-false statements that they used to construct an "accuracy index."

Comparing the number of accuracy-index questions answered correctly in 1990 and 2000, the researchers found that even after controlling for demographic characteristics of the respondents including age and education, the proportion of questions answered correctly was significantly lower in 2000 than it had been in 1990.

In 1990, for example, 58 percent of those surveyed correctly answered at least three out of five accuracy-index questions, compared to just 24 percent in 2000. (See table for proportions answering knowledge questions correctly, by year)

The questions included whether genetic testing can detect a tendency to develop certain types of cancer and depression; whether it can be used during pregnancy to find out if the baby or fetus will develop certain diseases; and whether gene therapy can be used to correct defects discovered through prenatal testing. Because of changes in expert knowledge about genetics and genetic testing, the wording of the

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
University of Michigan

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