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Keywords:

  • Communication;
  • information processing;
  • poverty;
  • risk

We investigated the risk-information-processing behaviors of people living at or near the poverty line. Because significant gaps in health and communication exist among high- and low-income groups, increasing the information seeking and knowledge of poor individuals may help them better understand risks to their health and increase their engagement in health-protective behaviors. Most earlier studies assessed only a single health risk selected by the researcher, whereas we listed 10 health risks and allowed the respondents to identify the one that they worried about most but took little action to prevent. Using this risk, we tested one pathway inspired by the risk information seeking and processing model to examine predictors of information insufficiency and of systematic processing and extended this pathway to include health-protective action. A phone survey was conducted of African Americans and whites living in the southern United States with an annual income of ≤$35,000 (N= 431). The results supported the model pathway: worry partially mediated the relationship between perceived risk and information insufficiency, which, in turn, increased systematic processing. In addition, systematic processing increased health-protective action. Compared with whites and better educated respondents, African Americans and respondents with little education had significantly higher levels of information insufficiency but higher levels of systematic processing and health-protective action. That systematic processing and knowledge influenced health behavior suggests a potential strategy for reducing health disparities.