Attitudes to water fluoridation in South Africa 1998. Part III. An analysis of pro- and anti-fluoridation attitudes in South Africa.
A survey on attitudes to water fluoridation in the South African population (N = 2,220) was undertaken in 1998. The purpose of this study was to evaluate responses to, and underlying reasons for pro- and anti-fluoridation attitudes. In response to a structured questionnaire, 61.9% of respondents were in favour of fluoride being added to drinking water and 9% were against it. Reasons supporting and opposing this measure were as follows. Of those who favoured the measure, 30% of respondents said it was because it would reduce tooth decay and 30% said it 'affects health', presumably positively. Other reasons include, 'it purifies water' (10.3%), 'more people will be reached' (9.8%), 'it strenghtens bones' (6%), 'it prevents plaque' (4.6%) and it 'improves the taste of water' (3.1%). There was a 1.3% 'don't know' response. Those opposed to the measure said, 'water should stay as it is' (26.1%), 'if it stays in the system it will create other problems' (15.6%), it 'affects health', presumably negatively (12.3%) and 'it will increase the cost of water' (8.8%). The 'don't know' response was 10.5%. When asked to give reasons for their 'don't know' response in the 'uncertain' category, 90% said they did not know. Given the contradictory and variable responses in both 'yes' and 'no' categories, the possible reasons for these findings could include: the differences between knowledge and beliefs, alternative health and lifestyle practices, levels of education, resistance to change and personality factors, among others. Understanding the assumption people make about fluoridation would help to structure education programmes to provide accurate and comprehensive information.