Background: Ongoing rumors and fake news regarding food fraud, adulteration, and contamination are highly visible. Health risk information circulating through media and interpersonal communication channels has made health crisis an important research agenda. Objective: This study explored the issue of food fraud and the effect of misinformation. Further, it assessed whether and how these issues have provided evidence-based interventions for food handlers and regulators to mitigate fraud misinformation. Methods: The Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) was adopted for a collaborative study in China, after which a cross-sectional survey with door-to-door interviews was performed. Participants from Beijing and Hefei were selected using multistage sampling of adults in May 2017. Based on 4 government surveillance reports on food rumors and safety incidents, a descriptive analysis, correlation analysis, and analysis of variance were performed on the data. Results: A total of 3090 results were gathered and analyzed. Among the respondents, 83.6% (2584/3090) heard at least one food rumor. Learning about food fraud was correlated with interpersonal connections (eg, doctors or health specialists) for accessing food health information. Overall, Chinese citizens with a higher level of interpersonal connection were more likely to be concerned about food incidents with a statistical difference (P<.001). Interpersonal connection was the most frequent communication source (698/1253, 55.7%), followed by traditional media (325/1253, 25.9%) and internet portals (144/1253, 11.5%). There was a significant relationship between media use and media category in Beijing (P<.001) and Hefei (P<.001). Overall, responses to food fraud and incident risks were lower in Beijing than in Hefei (P=.006). The respondents in Beijing were confronted more frequently by food rumors (range 346-1253) than those in Hefei (range 155-946). The urban dwellers in Beijing and their rural counterparts in Hefei also differed in terms of perceiving different levels of food risks from different media sources. The food rumor narratives that examined the conspiracy belief showed that social media played more important roles in influencing attitudes against misinformation for users in Hefei than in Beijing. Conclusions: This study shows that consumers have to be on guard against not only fake food, but also spreading fake information and rumors, as well as conspiracy beliefs involving fake food. This study focused on characterizing media sources, types of food fraud misinformation, and risk perceptions of food safety, which mix urgency and suspicion, and attempted to provide evidence-based interventions for risk management guidance, with the hypothesis of significant correlations between media types and sources, and consumer exposure and perception levels of food rumors and risks.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The Health Information National Trends Survey in China (HINTS-China) project extends the established HINTS from the United States [11,39-41]. The questionnaire was built upon the research framework of the HINTS by using identical core questions, as well as adding unique food fraud health misinformation and concerns, and communication characteristics for the Chinese public. It is a cooperative project supported by Beijing Normal University, George Mason University, the National Cancer Institute in the United States, the Chinese Food and Drug Administration, and the Chinese Health Media Group. The HINTS-China was approved by the institutional review board of the School of Journalism and Communication, Beijing Normal University in 2017.
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- conspiracy narratives
- food rumor
- food safety
- population health
- risk assessment
- risk management