In recent years there has been a growing public fascination with how features of modern life pose threats to personal health. In general discourse many individuals now seem to express concerns about how their health is threatened by modernity and new environmental contaminants or dangers. Popular magazines and other media routinely present stories about how individuals are vulnerable to previously unrecognised dangers from features of modernity such as genetically modified food, cell phones, depletion of the ozone layer, vaccinations, pesticides and high tension power lines.

Popular media now seem to be more focussed on health than in previous times and regularly run health scares as lead stories. The way in which such stories are presented is likely to have had two important effects. Firstly, greater attention to health has increased the public perception of personal vulnerability and while objective indices of health have risen over the past 50 years, subjective feelings of health have declined. Individuals now feel increasingly vulnerabe to many features of everyday life.

While this change in public concern is evident in the media and in a heightened awareness of health issues, researchers in the health psychology and psychosomatic areas have been slow to recognise that this change may have an important impact on how individuals think about their health and seek treatment. It seems probable that worries about the risks

to health from features of modern life are likely to undermine perceptions of health and lower the threshold for seeking health care. It is also likely that concerns about modern life affecting health may be reflected in the large increase in the use of alternative health care and "natural" treatments shown in recent surveys. Evidence from a number of areas suggest that modern health worries are likely to be associated with health outcomes.

The Modern Health Worries (MHW) Scale. This scale was developed to assess how concerned the participants were about the effects of different aspects of modernity on their personal health. Items were initially selected by surveying a range of individuals about what aspects of modern life they believed negatively affected their health.

A final set of items was selected, including such items as "genetically modified food", "cell phone towers" and "depletion of the ozone layer". Respondents are asked to rate each item on a 5 point scale, ranging from "no concern" to "extreme concern". Scores on the scale are normally distributed and the scale has high levels of internal reliability (Cronbach alpha of 0.94)


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