Awareness and knowledge of methylmercury in fish in the United States

Environ Res. 2011 Apr;111(3):442-50. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2011.01.004. Epub 2011 Jan 22.


In the 1970s several states in the Great Lakes region became concerned about mercury contamination in lakes and rivers and were the first to issue local fish consumption advisories. In 2001, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised pregnant women, nursing mothers, young children, and women who may become pregnant not to consume shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish and recommended that these women not exceed 12 ounces of other fish per week. In 2004, FDA reissued this advice jointly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and modified it slightly to provide information about consumption of canned tuna and more details about consumption of recreationally caught fish. Though several studies have examined consumers' awareness of the joint FDA and EPA advisory as well as different state advisories, few used representative data. We examined the changes in awareness and knowledge of mercury as a problem in fish using the pooled nationally representative 2001 and 2006 Food Safety Surveys (FSS) with sample sizes of 4482 in 2001 and 2275 in 2006. Our results indicated an increase in consumers' awareness of mercury as a problem in fish (69% in 2001 to 80% in 2006, p<.001). In our regression models, we found that in both years, parents having children less than 5 years of age were more aware of mercury in fish and knowledgeable about the information contained in the national advisories about mercury in fish (p<.01) than other adults. In both 2001 and 2006, women of childbearing age (aged 18-45) were less aware and knowledgeable about this information than other women. However, women of all age groups had larger gains in awareness and knowledge than their male counterparts during this time. Participants' race, education, income, region, fish preparation experiences, having a foodborne illness in the past year, and risk perceptions about the safety of food were significant predictors of their awareness and knowledge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Fishes*
  • Food Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge
  • Male
  • Methylmercury Compounds*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Seafood*
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • United States Food and Drug Administration
  • Young Adult


  • Methylmercury Compounds