Impact of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster on reproductive beliefs and decisions
Baker, Julie Anne
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Background. Many people in Belarus were exposed to radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986, and psychosocial effects are expected to be the most prominent health effect of this disaster. Little is know about how whether perceptions about radiation exposure were accurate, or the extent to which these perception could have impacted reproductive beliefs and decisions. Objectives. The main hypothesis of this study was that perceived radiation exposure would be associated with avoiding pregnancy. Additional exploratory analyses included the identification of predictors of perceived radiation exposure, as well as predictors of beliefs about the reproductive effects of radiation. Methods. The current study used a cross-sectional design to examine beliefs among 362 residents of 2 regions of Belarus with variable radiation contamination from the Chernobyl disaster. Participants completed a variety of psychological and health-related surveys, in addition to detailed questions about Chernobyl-related experiences and reproductive beliefs and decisions after the disaster. Measures of actual radiation exposure were based on residential ground contamination. Statistical analyses included unconditional logistic regression, principal components analysis, and linear regression. Results. Neither perceived nor actual radiation exposure was associated with avoiding pregnancy for Chernobyl-related reasons. The strongest predictor of avoiding pregnancy was having been an adult at the time of the disaster (OR 9.64, 95% CI 4.92-18.9), suggesting individuals who were of child-bearing age at the time of the disaster may have avoided pregnancy in the immediate aftermath of the disaster; it is unclear the extent to which individuals later avoided pregnancy in response to chronic contamination. The strongest predictor of perceived radiation exposure was current actual exposure, suggesting that individuals in this region have some knowledge of their true radiation exposure, despite anecdotal reports to the contrary. Conclusions. Sixteen years after the Chernobyl disaster, there was no observed association between perceived radiation exposure and reproductive behavior, although the study was limited in its ability to examine temporal changes in beliefs and attitudes. Additional research on how the disaster has affected beliefs and decisions would be informative.