Qualitative research uses nonnumeric data to understand people's opinions, motives, understanding, and beliefs about events or phenomena. In this analysis, I report the use of qualitative methods and data in the study of the relationship between environmental exposures and human health. A primary search for peer-reviewed journal articles dated from 1991 through 2008 included the following three terms: qualitative, environ*, and health. Searches resulted in 3,155 records. Data were extracted and findings of articles analyzed to determine where and by whom qualitative environmental health research is conducted and published, the types of methods and analyses used in qualitative studies of environmental health, and the types of information qualitative data contribute to environmental health. The results highlight a diversity of disciplines and techniques among researchers who used qualitative methods to study environmental health. Nearly all of the studies identified increased scientific understanding of lay perceptions of environmental health exposures. This analysis demonstrates the potential of qualitative data to improve understanding of complex exposure pathways, including the influence of social factors on environmental health, and health outcomes.
Anthropology; Environmental epidemiology; Qualitative methods; Sociology; Theory