SteelFisher, G., Blendon, R., Hero, J. and Ben-Porath, E. (2013), Adoption of Self-Protective Behaviors in Response to a Foodborne Illness Outbreak: Perspectives of Older Adults. Journal of Food Safety. doi: 10.1111/jfs.12035
Using national polling data from the U.S.A., this study assessed differences between older (>64) and younger (18–64) adults in their levels of concern about getting sick from a hypothetical outbreak and their likelihood of adopting each of several protective behaviors in response to a warning and a recall. Concern levels among older adults were lower than younger adults when outbreak-related illnesses were reported in the same state or town as the respondent, but concern among both increased as cases were reported in closer geographic proximity. Majorities of both older and younger adults reported that they were very likely to adopt a range of recommended protective behaviors, but older adults were less likely to adopt many. For example, if the outbreak was described as mild (no deaths), older adults were less likely to stop purchasing affected items and throw out affected items in the home. Under a severe scenario (with deaths), older adults were also less likely to take several actions, including throwing out the affected item, not purchasing the affected item at stores that sell groceries and not ordering the affected item in restaurants.
The findings from this study suggest there need to be improved communications to older adults in regard to foodborne illness outbreaks. Future communications should focus more on providing actionable information regarding ways that consumers can change their behavior to reduce their risk of infection. For example, it may be important to highlight clear directions for identifying recalled units of foods or drinks so older adults can easily find them if they are in their own kitchens. Communications should also include channels that are better targeted toward older consumers, such as networks of senior services. Materials should follow guidelines that have been shown to be effective with older adults, such as including basic changes like larger font sizes and clear graphics on printed materials.