Climate can affect the health of people through many mechanisms, including changes in food access or availability, heat stress, and drought. Quantitative studies examining the links between climate and health can clearly reveal those associations, details about their severity, and how they may harm a population’s physical wellbeing. However, to turn those findings into helpful policies and interventions, researchers may need to understand more about what people think and value in those situations and the ways those beliefs factor into how they respond.
A University of Minnesota School of Public Health researcher recently co-authored a commentary in The Lancet: Planetary Health with University Department of Geography, Environment & Society associate professor, Dr. Kathryn Grace. The paper explains how including qualitative data gathering methods, such as ethnographies, in quantitative studies can help explain why subjects behave as they do and offer key details into the story behind the findings.
“Quantitative data is great for measuring what is happening and determining associations, trajectories and things like that,” said commentary author and research scientist Dr. Jude Mikal. “You can add to the story and details of how things work — and avoid making possibly erroneous assumptions — when you add qualitative information.”
In the commentary, Dr. Mikal explores how qualitative data could explain the confusing results of a study in Kenya and Mali examining how climatic factors — such as precipitation, temperature, rainfall and vegetation — correspond to the growth of babies and young children.