Physical and Mental Health Conditions in Five Plain Communities

The Young Center International Conference Presentation


Berwood Yost

Scottie Thompson

Kirk Miller

Christina Abbott



Physical and Mental Health Conditions in Six Plain Communities

Health needs assessments are important tools for identifying needs, allocating resources, and recognizing inequalities, but needs assessments of entire communities or large geographic areas conducted by local hospitals can miss groups typically not captured by traditional survey methods such as the Amish and other Old-Order Plain groups. This presentation is designed to provide an understanding of the current health and health needs of Plain communities. This research also discusses how Plain communities’ perceptions of modern medicine and technology may be affecting the Plain way of life.

The Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, in collaboration with the Strasburg, PA Clinic for Special Children, designed a survey that assessed the health needs of adult Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite individuals (18 years of age and older) living in Lancaster County, Somerset County, and Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Households included in the survey were sampled from the church directories of each settlement. Mail survey materials and follow-up contacts were administered from August 2014 through May 2015. The survey consisted of 50 questions covering a range of topics including current health status, health conditions, nutrition, environmental indicators, social support, physical and mental health status, views on fatalism and genetic testing, access to and use of healthcare, and oral health.

The survey found significant differences between Old-Order groups in terms of their background characteristics (e.g., farm residency, age of housing stock, family size, raw milk consumption) as well as their health behaviors and conditions. The survey also found that Old-Order groups have fewer physical and mental health conditions than the general public (although rates for each group vary). The survey also found support for spousal and fetal genetic testing among Old-Order groups, although support for fetal genetic testing is somewhat lower than for spousal testing and support varies by Old-Order group. Fatalism is evidently not strongly related to attitudes toward genetic testing.