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Health / Nutrition Literacy

What is Health / Nutrition Literacy?

The ability to obtain, read, understand and use healthcare information in order to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions for treatment.

Why This is Important

It is estimated that 80 million Americans have limited health literacy. These individuals have difficulty with common health tasks, including reading the label of a prescribed drug. Health literacy is a primary contributing factor to health disparities. Several factors may influence health literacy, and the following factors have been shown to increase the risk: age – especially age greater than 65; limited English language proficiency; less education and lower socioeconomic status. Patients with low health literacy understand less about their medical conditions and treatments and overall report worse health status.

What This Means for YOU:

Think about a past interaction with the healthcare system – was it a good experience? Did your caregivers explain things in a way you could understand? Did your care involve a prescription? Do you know the name of your medication and what its expected beneficial effects and side effects might be? Did your care require any lab tests or x-rays? Did you understand the reason for the tests and what might happen if you did not follow through and get them done? Did you have any costs that you hadn’t expected or could barely afford? Did you know whether there were alternative options to the testing that was recommended? Were there any potential complications of the testing and were those explained to you ahead of time? Did you understand and recall everything you were told and have enough time to ask questions? Did you feel like you knew what questions to ask, or did you stay quiet because you did not want to seem silly or feel like you were wasting the provider’s time?

Things you can do TODAY to increase Health and Nutritional literacy and improve your health outcomes:

  • Schedule an appointment with your health care provider just to discuss your medications: what each one is for, how should it be taken, what their side effects are and whether there are any alternatives to even one of your medications
  • One week before your next appointment, make a list of questions you would like to discuss with your provider; consider sending them to your provider ahead of time if your provider recommends doing so. Add more questions to your list as you think about them
  • Take control of your health: use Google appropriately – NOT to diagnose your medical conditions but instead to help you come up with a list of age-appropriate health screenings to discuss with your provider at your next visit
  • If it has been a year or more since your last health appointment/dental appointment/eye exam, schedule a visit with a health provider, even if there are no pressing issues
  • Download a podcast app and start listening to a healthy living podcast which focuses on wellness. A good option is “Just One Thing – with Michael Mosely”: in it, Mr. Mosely examines one health-related topic at a time. Each segment lasts about 15 minutes and focuses on simple healthy behaviors – drinking water, standing more, the benefits of having houseplants, eating chocolate; he brings in experts and looks at the data for or against each recommendation