Saturday, April 10, 2004

Health Literacy beyond Basic Skills This ERIC Digest deals with what might be the most important area of information literacy which is health. What more important area can there be for most people?

From the article:

The relationship between health and literacy is often discussed in terms of the health-related problems that may be associated with low literacy. However, health literacy is an issue that spans education and age levels. This Digest looks beyond adult basic education to address issues of health and literacy for all adults and educational responses to them.

In contemporary society, a constellation of changes has complicated the adult's challenge of being healthy: the health care system's shift from a paternalist to a partnership model, with more individual responsibility for prevention, informed decision making, and consent; complex choices about insurance; the need for self-management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure; and responsibility for both children's and elders' health care. Adults at all literacy levels must cope with conflicting media reports about environmental health hazards, diet and nutrition, the safety of hormone replacement therapy, and the appropriate frequency of screening tests; myths and misconceptions about communicable diseases such as smallpox, anthrax, and SARS; pharmaceutical company advertising about new drugs; and the vast amounts of health information available on the Internet.

Health literacy is defined as the capacity to obtain, interpret, understand, and use information to promote and maintain health (Greenberg 2001; Shohet 2002). Health consumers must be able to evaluate information for credibility and quality, analyze relative risks and benefits, calculate dosages, interpret test results, and locate health information, tasks that may require visual, computer, information, and computational literacy (Sullivan 2000). Nutbeam's model (1999) depicts three levels of health literacy that encompass the skills and abilities in these definitions: (1) functional health literacy--basic reading and writing skills to understand and follow simple health messages; (2) interactive health literacy--more advanced literacy, cognitive, and interpersonal skills to manage health in partnership with professionals; and (3) critical health literacy--ability to analyze information critically, increase awareness, and participate in action to address barriers.

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