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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Kentucky: Using Photovoice to Engage Appalachian Youth in Environmental Health Research

A team of investigators working with the Mountain Air Project (MAP) at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health equipped young volunteers with digital cameras to allow them to document environmental health issues in their local environments in what is believed to be the first effort at using photovoice to engage youth in environmental health research in Appalachia. Their findings appear in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Appalachian Kentucky reports some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the United States, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. While smoking rates are high in the region, unexplained variation remains and community-engaged research approaches are warranted to identify contributing factors. This exploratory study aimed to determine the utility of photovoice to elicit such perspectives with this population. Over eight weeks, ten participants ages 12 to 18 represented their perspectives through photographs and accompanying narratives.

A thematic content analysis of the youth narratives that accompanied the photos revealed three primary themes of environmental determinants of respiratory illness: compromises community members make regarding respiratory health in order to secure a livelihood; tension between cultural legacies and respiratory health; and consequences of geographic forces. This study demonstrates the value of incorporating youth perspectives in environmental health research, and the utility of photovoice as an approach to elicit such perspectives.

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