"Taking It To The Streets" To Improve Health Of Urban Communities

May 20, 1997
Media Contact: Gary Stephenson
Phone: (410)955-5384

Interviewing urban African Americans about their health on their own turf may be more effective than traditional telephone survey methods, a Johns Hopkins study shows.

The findings could lead to more accurate public health assessments and better care for inner-city African Americans, who are at high risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases, the researchers say.

"The street intercept survey method has been used in studies of HIV, teen-age drug abuse and illegal drug sales, but this may be the first study of the method's effectiveness in assessing a larger at-risk community," says Kevin W. Miller, M.P.H, R.N., lead author and an instructor of medicine.

Response and completion rates for the street survey method were 80 percent and 98 percent, respectively, versus 61 percent and 86 percent for the random dial telephone survey method.

Results of the study, supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, are published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

For the street survey, teams of trained African American interviewers talked with 942 adults who were sitting on front stoops, waiting for buses, running errands and doing other outdoor activities during summer weekdays. They were asked about smoking, nutrition, literacy and other health and non-health matters. For the telephone survey, interviewers contacted 928 households.

"The street survey method may be better, in part, because it's more personal than telephone or mail surveys,"Miller says. "People may be more comfortable and less likely to break off a face-to-face interview with a researcher of the same ethnicity."

Compared to census figures, survey methods can over- or under-represent certain demographic factors, such as gender, education and employment. The street survey method produced a representative sample of the community on most sociodemographic factors, says Miller.

"Our results suggest the street survey method is an efficient, safe and cost-effective way to reach at-risk populations compared to telephone and mail surveys," Miller says. "Given the increasing need to assess the health of people who bear a disproportionate burden of disease, this method provides greater access to hard to reach' groups such as the homeless."

Co-authors were Lora B. Wilder, Sc.D., R.D., Frances A. Stillman, Ed.D., and Diane M. Becker, Sc.D., M.P.H.

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