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Risk Communication for the Masses: Who Are We to Say? (And What Are We to Say?)

Rowe, Sylvia MA; Alexander, Nick BA

doi: 10.1097/NT.0b013e3181c263a3
Nutrition and Communications

In a number of recent food safety incidents, there appears to be a serious disconnect between what risk communicators express and what consumers understand-at least judging by published consumer reaction to the events. Something does not seem to be getting through to the public as intended. The article explores and analyzes this disconnect, through news media reports, reader/viewer blogs, and consumer surveys. Traditionally, risk communicators have blamed consumer confusion on risk communication techniques and have worked hard on developing and disseminating rules for good risk communication-it is suggested here that the problem may be more basic, in ways that make some of those rules ineffective. The article recommends possible modifications to traditional risk communication to take better account of both the changing media landscape and target audiences.

Dealing with the thorny topic of risks is tricky

Sylvia Rowe, MA, is an adjunct professor at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also the president of SR Strategy, a health, nutrition, food safety, and risk communications and issue management consultancy located at Washington, DC. Previously, Ms Rowe served as president and chief executive officer of the IFIC and IFIC Foundation, nonprofit organizations that communicate science-based information of food safety and nutrition issues to health professionals, journalists, government officials, educators, and consumers.

Nick Alexander, BA, is former senior media counselor for the International Food Information Council Foundation, Washington, DC. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University. A former network correspondent with ABC News, Mr Alexander has been, for the past 7½ years, tracking and writing about science communications issues and the evolving challenge to public acceptance of credible science.

Corresponding author: Sylvia Rowe, MA, 1100 Connecticut Ave. NW, #1000, Washington, DC 20036 (

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.