October is Health Literacy Month!

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Health Literacy 101

From our earliest educational opportunities, reading and the ability to read or be literate is a skill that is encouraged and affirmed.

Another form of literacy is health literacy which refers to the ability to complete basic tasks related to having and maintaining an individual’s health. In fact, the American Medical Association has stated, "poor health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person's health than age, income, employment status, education level, and race."

If we want to have healthy communities made of healthy individuals, we need to have high health literacy. That is why Health Literacy Month is something we want to highlight for you along with all the tools you as leaders can use in your community increase health literacy in your communities.

Defining Health Literacy

The Affordable Care Act provides a helpful definition of 'health literacy': “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions.” The CDC says anyone who needs health information and services also needs health literacy skills to:

  • Find information and services
  • Communicate their needs and preferences and respond to information and services
  • Process the meaning and usefulness of the information and services
  • Understand the choices, consequences and context of the information and services
  • Decide which information and services match their needs and preferences so they can act

Studies on health literacy indicate that people with low literacy rates are less likely to understand medical labels and instructions, get a flu shot, use preventive care, and more likely to be hospitalized and take medications incorrectly compared with adults with higher literacy.

Addressing Culture and Health

Culture affects how people communicate, understand and respond to health information. For people from different cultural backgrounds, health literacy is affected by belief systems, communication styles, and understanding and response to health information. Here are some resources to help understand how healthliteracy and culture relate to each other and can be considered together to further increase health literacy.

Improving Health Literacy

There are a variety of federal resources available that will help communities encourage and build health literacy for individuals and families in our communities.