Research Summary

Environmental health promotion at a National Science Festival: An experiential-education based approach

Experiential initiative improves environmental health awareness

Applied Environmental Education & Communication

Anthropogenic causes of environmental degradation, including destruction of natural habitats, pollution, and uncontrolled industrialization, can have negative impacts on human health. These factors disproportionately affect those who contribute the least to environmental degradation, such as children and people living in developing countries where social, economic, and political conditions are unstable. To try to reduce avoidable health-related challenges associated with environmental degradation, the World Health Organization (WHO) has prioritized health education and promotion. This strategy was based on studies that suggested educational and environmental research should work in tandem to create social and environmental change. This study sought to evaluate the impacts of an environmental health promotion initiative at a science festival and identify successes and challenges to its implementation.

The study evaluated a health promotion exhibit at the week-long National Science Festival held in Grahamstown, South Africa in 2015. A pilot study was conducted to determine the efficacy of a pre- and post-intervention quiz. The pre-and post-intervention quizzes were administered to 79 sixth and seventh grade students. Then, using feedback from the pilot study, a computer-based, multiple-choice quiz was developed for use at the festival. The pre- and post-intervention quiz contained identical questions to evaluate the intervention, and the pre-quiz additionally collected demographic information about the participant. The quizzes also included educational slides about the answers. A total of 777 participants ranging in age from 11 to 20 years and up took the pre-intervention quiz and 436 took both the pre- and post-intervention quizzes. Approximately 93% of participants were 19 years old or younger.

The health promotion exhibit consisted of three stages: a pre-intervention quiz, the educational intervention, then a post-intervention quiz, all completed during a visit to the exhibit. The educational intervention included slides about environmental health administered by participants, an educational poster, and a leaflet. The leaflet explored a variety of topics, including: the effects of environmental degradation on human health, overpopulation, over consumption of natural resources, urbanization, pollution, and why healthy environments are important. The tests were scored, and the scores were compared using statistics.

Results showed a significant increase in correct responses to all but one question in the post-intervention quiz as compared to the pre-intervention quiz. The exception was question 1 (“what are natural resources?”), which had a significant decrease in correct responses. Some questions with significant increases in correct responses included: “Why is there less fresh water available?”, and “What are the outcomes of limiting use of natural resources?” The researchers found that there were no significant differences in responses between any of the demographic groups (gender, school, age). Additionally, most participants already knew about environmental issues prior to completing the educational intervention. The researchers concluded that the educational intervention as effective at communicating topics surrounding environmental degradation and its connection to human health. They noted the effectiveness of using an interactive computer program to communicate the information.

This study did have limitations. The pilot study used to develop the pre- and post-intervention quiz was limited to students in grades 6 and 7, which may have skewed the style and learning level of the questions asked on the quiz. Also, the quiz was administered only at the National Science Festival and therefore makes the data less generalizable to other regions.

The researchers underscored the importance of taking preventative measures against environmental degradation. They recommended this type of environmental health exhibit as an effective strategy to communicate the connection between environmental degradation and human health.

The Bottom Line

Anthropogenic environmental degradation can have negative impacts on human health. To try to reduce preventable health-related issues associated with environmental degradation, the World Health Organization has prioritized health education and promotion. This study evaluated the impacts of an environmental health promotion initiative at the National Science Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. A total of 436 participants at the festival, mostly 11 to 19 years old, took a pre-intervention quiz, then participated in an educational intervention consisting of a computer presentation, a poster, and a leaflet. The participants then took a post-intervention quiz. Results showed a significant increase in correct responses from the pre- to the post-intervention quiz, indicating that the educational intervention was effective and recommend similar approaches for other programs.