Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog
My grandson was up to bat in his first little league game.
I shouted enthusiastically from the stands, “Eye on the ball,
Rhett. Eye on the ball!” He
stepped out of the box, lowered the bat, and replied in a low bored voice with all the power of a
stage whisper, “ I
already know that. You don’t need to tell me.” Now I know how he felt.
A headline flashed on my screen this morning “Information
materials… too complex for patients".
We know that. For sure. For certain. No doubt. No question. A PubMed search on “readability
of patient information” brings
up 2149 published articles; 45 already in
2015, one every work day.
The continued focus on patients’ inability
to understand information from healthcare providers and insurers is not just
wasteful, it’s harmful in several ways.
Readability is the low hanging fruit of health literacy
research. It’s picked. There are so many urgent unanswered questions to investigate. Funders and editors, please require more forward thinking, and more
Readability studies are about patients and their deficits. On average, Americans spend about 1
hour per year as a patient in a clinical setting. The near exclusive focus on
patients’ in health literacy research excludes most of us, most of the
time. It defines individuals as their disease. It suggests a person only needs
health literacy when seeking or obtaining medical care. If research refocused on what promotes a person’s
or community’s ability to use information and services for health, risk
would less often progress to need, and fewer of us would be patients. We would
discover interventions to complement information-improvement initiatives.
Focus on “low literate patients’” deficits is disempowering, disrespectful,
and self-defeating. It positions
patients as incapable of doing what is required to recover and cope. It breeds
unnecessary dependence on professionals. It positions patients as victims of
disease, and providers as their rescuers — both
untenable positions in a system that strives to be patient centered and
prevention focused and wants patients to self-manage disease and be partners in
We need no more
studies to document the problem. We need to remove barriers, and develop
skills, particularly interactive and reflective skills which are typically
categorized as advanced health literacy skills and not included in health
literacy studies. We need to
understand the contexts in which people strive to act on information to keep
healthy, live well with disease, and raise heathy competent children. We need recognize and research health
literacy beyond the clinical encounter in everyday life where information is understood
and acted on - or not.
Let’s stop analyzing how bad
health-related information is, put into practice what we know about making it
clear and actionable, and move on
to figure out what, besides plain language, empowers people translate information
into health promoting actions and outcomes.
I’m proud of my city. We are catching up
with the rest of the world.
Yesterday Mayor Ed Murray announced Seattle will provide paid
parental leave for City employees.
All parents — foster parents, adoptive parents,
mothers and fathers— will have the option to take four
weeks off —with pay— to bond with a new child. The mayor is encouraging other
employers in the state to offer similar benefits.
This should not be the surprise, the bold move, the
breakthrough that it is.
The US is the only developed country on the planet that does not
give new parents paid time off to support attachment and bonding and infant
brain development, and to put their newborns on a positive health trajectory.
President Obama announced a similar new
policy to provide six weeks paid parental leave to federal workers in
his State of the Union address.
A step toward gender equity in the workplace
I’m especially glad the paid leave
policy will apply to fathers as well as mothers. That presents child care as a
shared responsibility. It puts to rest arguments and unfair choices that have plagued so many women’s
career…You are on the mommy track, so you can’t
be on the partnership track. The paid leave policy protects mothers’ earning
potential, avoids unfair expectations and burdens and removes that awful choice
between career and family.
Most of all, this investment in parents shows we are a society
that values its children, including adopted children and those in foster care.
It shows respect for the role of fathers in raising children, and the role of
mothers in the workforce. It
acknowledges the contributions of
foster parents — special people who can love other
people’s children as their own, and encourages
foster parenting. Thank you Mr Mayor and Mr President for leadership toward a
stronger city, region and society.
is teen dating abuse awareness month.
Throughout the month of February, teens
and organizations across the country have been working together to raise
awareness about teen dating violence.
As a dating abuse prevention educator February is my busiest month
(which is why it has taken me so long to write this blog). Every week I visit
the schools in my community to discuss dating violence, healthy relationships
and how to recognize warning signs. I speak with students from 7
grade all the way through college about their experiences. I am proud of what I
do and I am grateful to work in a community that considers these issues
important enough to discuss with our children all throughout they year. I wish
I could say the same for the community I live in. Not every district or county recognizes the importance of
discussing healthy relationships with adolescence, which is shocking
considering the statistics (see below). I have tried on more than one occasion
to bring presentations similar to the ones I do in other communities to my
son’s school to no avail. The
question is why aren’t some schools or some communities talking about dating
The simple answer is, it is not an easy
subject to talk about. We are taught to ignore or to stay quiet when we see
signs of abuse. We are not encouraged to talk about abusive behaviors in
relationships. If you are parents, it's even more challenging to open a
conversation with your child about relationships. Where do you begin, and at
It is important to recognize that dating abuse affects
everyone. It knows no boundaries and crosses all barriers. It can and does
happen to anyone, at any time at any age all around the world. The repercussions
are far-reaching and impossible to ignore. According to loveisrespect.org violent relationships in
adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher
risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further
domestic violence. It affects
children, their families, their schools and their communities.
It can be difficult to talk to your children or a young
person in your life about relationships, dating and especially sex but if you
don’t, who will? We must talk to our youth about how to recognize warning
signs, what a healthy relationship looks like and where to get help. Talk to them and listen to what they
have to say. If you don’t know where to begin, I have listed resources for you
below as well as some statistics.
deserves a healthy relationship. Not everyone knows what that looks like
(especially when they are looking to the media and culture for examples but
that is an entirely separate future blog post) so it is up to us to begin the
conversation. Reach out to your local agencies; see if they can bring someone
in to the schools to reinforce what you are teaching them at home. We can raise
awareness, we can prevent violence in relationships and we can do that one talk
at a time.
Did you know:
1 in 3 teens in the U.S. is the victim of physical, sexual, emotional,
or verbal abuse by a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds other types of
Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the
highest rate of intimate partner violence (almost triple the national average).
Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by
putting victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky
sexual behaviors, and further domestic violence.
Eighty one percent of parents believe teen-dating violence is not an
issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.
One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual,
emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds
rates of other types of youth violence.
One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or
physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or
Approximately 70% of college students say they have been sexually coerced.
There are many organizations doing incredible work focusing
on relationship violence awareness and prevention. These are a few of my
US residents speak at least 329 languages. In some US cities less
than 60% of the population speaks English. About 32 million of us speak a
language other than English at home. If your service population is not diverse
now, it will be soon. Pew Research
projects the US Spanish speaking population will triple by 2050, and the Asian population will double. Success
in improving the health of ethnic populations will substantially influence the
future health of America as a whole.
Healthcare organizations have been working to develop their
capacity to address language barriers and cultural differences, but it’s
hard to make progress when the challenge is increasing along with the
complexity of treatments and healthcare delivery and financing systems. Non-
English speakers still face substantial communication barriers at almost every
level of the health care system.
show that communication barriers have a negative impact on health, discourage
use of preventive services, and increase costs of treatment through unnecessary
testing, delayed diagnosis, extended treatment times, and misinterpreted
instructions. Without information that they can understand and use in their
everyday lives, patients cannot engage in self-care or self-management. In
short, they cannot take responsibility for their health and be partners in treatment,
as effective care now requires.
In most cases, provider
organizations and insurers have the means to overcome language barriers. But
current practice in most communities still reflects an assumption that it is
the patients' obligation to make themselves understood, to ask appropriate
questions and to correctly interpret and comply with instructions. In most
instances, this assumption is wrong as a matter of law. Federal and state civil
rights laws and Medicaid regulations require access to linguistically
appropriate care. These laws are the basis for accreditation standards that
require providers and insurers to position themselves for our multicultural future.
Studies show that print
materials, particularly in combination with brief counseling, can increase
recall, compliance, and behavior changes; and reduce consultations regarding discomforts
that could be self-managed. Health information is increasingly available and
accessed online, through mobile devices and virtual patient educators. Still a
clear message from research participants
is that written information should always be available, even in the
presence of multiple other media.
While they are not a total
solution, CLAMs remain the necessary foundation for a comprehensive
communication effort, and an obvious starting place to promote health literacy.
Organizations serving diverse populations will need to hone a process to
develop and test English language materials, and to adapt essential proven
materials for non-English speakers.
More on that next time. Stay tuned.
Previously in this space, we talked about the identified consequences
of health literacy. I argued that the documented presence of those
consequences in a mother’s (or other’s) life would be
evidence that she possesses and
used health literacy skills to produce those consequences. Now we look specifically at critical
health literacy and its consequences.
Nutbeam (2000, 2008) followed literacy scholars Freebody and
Luke (1990) to name levels, or, more accurately, categories of health literacy:
functional/technical skills (ability to read and use numbers);
interactive/social skills (listening, speaking) and critical health literacy,
critical thinking skills that enable a person to apply information in new
circumstances (Nutbeam 2000) in one’s own life (Kickbush 2001).
While critical skills are commonly considered advanced or higher
level skills, some literacy scholars (Charner-Laird, Fiarman, Park, Soderber & Nunes, 2003)
have argued that critical
thinking, especially reflection, is so essential to making meaning from
information and using it in context, that it should be considered a basic
skill. They describe reflection as the “mind’s strongest glue” for making
connections essential to understanding any subject. Maternal health literacy includes all three
categories of health literacy skills, which mothers use in various combinations
according to the task and the context. Strong skills in one category (say
listening and remembering) can compensate for lesser skill in another category
Is Critical Health Literacy different from Health Literacy?
Sykes and colleagues (2013) wanted to know if critical health
literacy is really different from associated concepts like health literacy and
empowerment. So they analyzed the literature on critical health literacy and
interviewed UK health literacy experts. They concluded that critical health
literacy is indeed a unique concept differentiated from related concepts by its
consequences: confidence or self-efficacy, improved quality of life, increased social capital, and improved health outcomes. The unique consequences of critical
heath literacy suggest that critical thinking is the active ingredient in
health literacy that leads to action and outcomes. This adds weight to our
operating theory at Beginnings Guides and the Center for Health Literacy
Promotion that reflection is a key lifeskill for mothers taking responsibility
for family health.
The Active Ingredient in Health Literacy: critical thinking
My friend and colleague, home visiting expert Linda Wollesenhas been saying for decades that mothers make progress when home visitors,
parent educators (I’ll add patient educators and health
educators) stop giving answers and instead ask questions that make mothers
think. In the process of working out answers to reflective questions mothers
learn to look objectively, critically at a situation to make sense of it and
choose a purposeful response, to formulate their own questions for information
seeking, to interpret information and use it for practical purposes in their
Basic health literacy, described as reading and numeracy skills
used to understand basic information needed to make appropriate health
decisions (Monday I will quit smoking) is insufficient to affect outcomes.
Action is required for outcomes, often sustained and difficult action. And
critical thinking skills are required to plan action, progress in the face of
barriers, and produce desired outcomes. So to be health literate, mothers and
others need skills in all three categories: functional, interactive and
critical health literacy. And the greatest of these is critical health literacy
— thinking skills to respond intentionally to the health
challenges and opportunities of everyday life.
Nutbeam D. (2000)Nutbeam, D.
(2000). Health literacy as a public health goal: a challenge for contemporary
health education and communication strategies into the 21st Century. Health
Promotion International, 15, 259267.
Nutbeam, D. (2008). The evolving
concept of health literacy. Social Science & Medicine, 67, 2072-2078.
Literacy: addressing the health and education divide.Health Promotion
International 16 (3), 289-297.
Sykes S, Willis J, Rowlands G
& Popple K. (2013). Understanding critical literacy: a concept analysis. Biomed
Central Public Health:13:150. http:www.biomedcentral.com1471
Let’s welcome the new year with some new
thinking about measuring health literacy.
It’s hard to say exactly what electricity
is, but if the lights are on, we know we’ve got it. And we
measure electricity by the light it produces. So it is with health literacy. It
is hard to say just what health literacy is, but we know it by its
consequences, and we can measure those consequences.
Services utilization, behaviors, self-care
Two recent systematic reviews and concept analyses (Sykes 2013,
Sorenson 2012) identified the consequences of health literacy. Both studies found the most frequently
reported consequences of health literacy are improved use of services,
behaviors, and self-care. These consequences reflect how people use their
health literacy skills in everyday life and what they actually do for health with the information and
support available to them.
Although these consequences are supposed or anticipated rather than
evidence-based (Sykes 2013), the documented presence of these consequences
would indicate that the person possesses and has used health literacy skills to
produce them. Studies using the Life Skills Progression instrument to assess
maternal heath literacy are building the evidence base.
The LSP Maternal
Health Literacy Scales rate mothers health literacy by their health and
healthcare-related actions practices and behaviors. Sequential measures show
change —improvement or regression. The LSP Healthcare Literacy Scale uses 9 items to rate
mothers’ use of information, emergency services, medical and dental
care and preventive services for herself and her child. The Selfcare Literacy
Scale uses five items to assess risk behaviors and selfcare practices. Three published studies using LSP data on three different cohorts
of mother-child dyads provide
evidence that mothers supported by home visitors trained to promote maternal
heath literacy produced the consequences of health literacy at increasing levels
over 12-18 months. So the recent
analyses of the consequences of health literacy confirm earlier findings that
the LSP can be used as meaningful
measure of MHL.
Next: the recently identified unique consequences of critical
health literacy add weight to our theory that critical thinking skill,
particularly reflection, is the active ingredient in health literacy that enables mothers (and others) to
transform their decisions into health promoting actions and outcomes. Stay
K. Van den Broucke S, Fullam J,
Doyle G, Pelikan J, et. al. (2012). Health Literacy and Public Health: A
systematic review and integration of definitions and models. BMC Public
Smith, S. A., & Moore, E. J. (2012). Health literacy and depression in the context of home visitation. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 16, 1500-1508.
Carroll LN, Smith SA & Thomson NR. (2014). The Parents as Teachers Health Literacy Demonstration Project: Integrating an Empowerment Model of Health Literacy Promotion into Home-Based Parent Education. Health Promotion Practice pii: 1524839914538968. [Epub ahead of print]. Available on Internet at: http://hpp.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/23/1524839914538968.abstract
Mobley S, Thomas S, Sutherland D, Hudgins, J, Ange B & Johnson M. (2014) Maternal Health Literacy Progression Among Rural Perinatal Women. Maternal Child Health J 18: 1881-1892.
Beginnings Pregnancy Guide 9th Edition Sold Out
The second printing of the 2014 is underway. The scan code that instantly links Beginningsreaders to additional prescreened information via the Internet on a mobile device has proved popular. In a survey of pregnant women in SC, we found that respondents rarely use toll free numbers; while nearly all reported finding health information online. The entire website is available on your mobile device.
Websites Continue to Grow
Beginnings Guides had 155,00 visitors in 2014. The Center for Health Literacy Promotion had 55,000 visitors. The blogs were read by 100,00 including 6900 reads in the last 30 days. And we have 1310 Twitter followers. Kudos to Beginnings Webmother, Simone Snyder.
Most read blogs
(this one was on the most-read list for 2013, too)
Promoting Maternal Health Literacy Nationally & Internationally
Free Health Literacy Training Videos
We produced a series of training videos in collaboration with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Pacific Northwest Region. This from the National Libraries Website:
Center for Health Literacy Promotion offers free training
Together with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, the Center for Health Literacy Promotion has put together three short training sessions on understanding and promoting health literacy designed for social and health services providers and programs. Each session includes a short video, a pre- and post-test (with answer key), a handout, and a facilitator's guide. All three sessions and their resources are available to download or view for free online.
To view these resources, visit the Center for Health Literacy Promotion:
Published Article: Parents As Teachers Health Literacy Demonstration Project
Carroll LN, Smith SA & Thomson N (2014). Integrating an Empowerment Model of Health Literacy Promotion into Home-Based Parent Education. Health Promotion Practice pii: 1524839914538968. [Epub ahead of print] Read the article
Guest editor, Curationis Special Edition:
This turned out to be a monumental work and an inspiring labor of love. It was a joy and a challenge to work with a dozen authors whose work is at the foundation of efforts in southern and eastern African countries to develop professional education curricula and build a workforce of nurses dedicated to care of children. With health systems only about 20 years old, this work is underway to differentiate care of children from care of adults. Therefore, the articles focus on issues in professional education and practice. There are many lessons we in the US can learn from their work to build a healthcare system grounded in child rights, and to effect systems change in the face of racism and limited resources. Curationis, a South African nursing journal has published the special edition online with free access for all. It will appear in print in 2015.
HARC VI Washington DC Nov 4-5
Family transitions precluded my travel to DC this year. But I was not totally absent. Linda Wollesen, developer of the LSP presented in my stead results of a study conducted in collaboration with Anne Turner and colleagues at University of Washington Northwest Center for Public Health Practice. Conclusion: parents can and do manage child oral health, even in the face of poverty, low education and limited English proficiency where service and supports to use them are in place. This is on the list to publish in 2015.
New & Contintuing in 2015
Worldwide Universities Health Literacy Network
Last year in Sydney I worked with an awesome group scholars/practitioners/patient representatives to instigate an international collaboration on promoting health literacy as a personal and community asset. The group has joined with others who began similar talks in 2012 at the first Worldwide Universities Health Literacy Network meeting in Southampton, and expanded to include representatives of countries in Europe, Asia, Africa , South America (and me). The collaborators have been holding monthly meetings via Skype and are developing funding proposals to address maternal health literacy globally.
CenteringPregnacy Health Literacy Trial
This project continues. I got to visit the site of the comparison group, Greenville Health System, Greenville, SC. We're searching for a second site. Want to be an intervention site? Contact me!
Maternal Health Literacy: Untangling the "Web of Interaction"
The research project for 2015 is funded by the National Library of Medicine. The study addresses an urgent need to determine what promotes maternal health literacy, especially in historically underserved poverty populations. We are identifying factors in the home and family context that influence mothers'health literacy, and how those factors interact. Understanding the context in which mothers use information and services for personal and child health can guide intervention design, tailoring and evaluation. We are looking for ways to visualize data to suggest points of intervention and help home visitors to answer the ever-vexing question: where to begin?
Previously in this Space,
I suggested that efforts to promote
health literacy are better guided by a salutogenic model that asks, What enables a
person to move toward health? or what enables a person to take action for
health? That’s true in
health promotion. But a person uses the health literacy skill set in various
combinations to accomplish different health task in multiple health contexts.
No single approach will get us to our envisioned health literate society.
Need for an integrated Approach
A new salutogenic perspective and
approach to health literacy needs to complement rather than replace the
dominant pathogenic approach.
Nearly everyone will at some time find themselves in need of care that
only hospitals and healthcare organizations can provide. The pathogenic
approach is appropriate and necessary in healthcare contexts.
In addition, with chronic
disease/disability steadily increasing and accounting for nearly half of all
health loss (Lytton, 2013), and nearly 80% of all health costs in the US
(Budenheimer 2009) continuing attention to risk factors and preventive
practices is necessary and will remain so.
Still, the number and variety of
risks, and the number and variety of conditions that constrain health choices,
are so vast that achieving health literacy as defined in the pathogenic model
is nearly implausible (Lytton 2013). A salutogenic approach is needed to
clarify where, when, and how mothers, and others, can take effective action to
achieve, maintain and enhance good health.
Domains of Health Literacy
Sorenson et al (2012) integrated the pathogenic
and salutogenic approaches represented in 17 definitions and 12 models of
health literacy. The authors described three domains of health literacy focused
on disease treatment, disease prevention (both pathogenic) and health promotion
Maternal Health Literacy Crosses
A mother uses health literacy skills
to function in each of these domains. She functions in the healthcare system
when she is an out-patient in prenatal care or oral healthcare, when she is an
in-patient in obstetric care, and when she obtains health services for her
child. She functions in the prevention domain when she engages in preventive parenting practices (e.g.
using a car seat) and avoids risky behaviors (e.g. smoking). In the health
promotion domain, a health literate mother engages in self-care practices (e.g.
exercise) and actively supports healthy child development (e.g. reads to the
child). This integrated model is
potentially a giant leap for health literacy research. Stay tuned.
T, Chen E & Bennett H. (2009). Confronting the Growing Burden of Chronic
Disease: Can the US Health Care Workforce Do the Job? Health Affairs 28 (1).
65-74. Available online:
K, Van den Broucke S, Fullam J, Doyle G, Pelikan J, et. al. (2012). Health
Literacy and Public Health: A systematic review and integration of definitions
and models. BMC Public Health12:80. Available online: www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/12/80.
M. (2013). Health Literacy: An Opinionated Perspective. American Journal of
Preventive Medicine 45,e35-e40.
What causes disease?
For 200 years, Western medicine has worked from the idea that health is the absence of disease. The overarching question for medicine and healthcare has been What causes disease? And despite the name, healthcare has always been about treating disease. Early on, care and research focused on germs and infectious disease; later , following the research, focus shifted to genes and risk factors for chronic disease. Although it is now widely accepted that health is more than the absence of disease, Public Health, and even the relatively new field of Health Promotion, still maintain a steady focus on reducing disease risk factors. It’s time for a new question.
Prerequisite for Health:
- Stable eco-system
- Sustainable resources
- Social justice
Research has answered, in broad terms, the centuries old question.
The roots of disease grow deeper and earlier than germs or genes and
risky lifestyles. It is well-established that health and disease originate in early development, in the “zero to three”, prenatal to preschool period. The combination of Nature (genes & germs) and nurture (early parenting and environment) in the earliest months and years of life establish the foundation for all that follows: how susceptible we are to disease, how resilient we are, and further, how we learn, make friends, cope with challenges, and get what we want.
Research breakthroughs have given health a new broader meaning that is expressed and accepted more internationally than in the US. See the
It is now clear that health and disease originate in early development; and that health, like disease,develops over time and its trajectory can be influenced, especially during fetal and early child development and other critical periods of development. That understanding demands that we flip the overarching question to ask, What causes health? And to flip the concentration of resources from end of life care to maternal and child health promotion.
What causes health literacy?
Most health literacy research has taken place in US academic medical centers under the old overarching question asking, What is the role of low literacy in disease? It is important to note that this research
also uses an outdated understanding of literacy as reading ability. This line of research has established that few Americans understand medical terminology and nearly all of us have difficulty following complex
medication regimens and navigating the complexities of healthcare and insurance.
If we start with the new overarching question: What causes health?, then a more actionable question for health literacy promotion is What will empower this person to use information and services for health?
The answer, that which empowers a person to use information and services for health, is health literacy. Better information is necessary, but rarely sufficient. Look to the Prerequisites for Health (above) to see
other factors necessary to develop health and health literacy.
Antonovsky A. (1996). The salutogenic model as a theory to guide health promotion Health Promotion
International 11 (1);11-18
Halfon N, Larson K, Lu M, Tullis E & Russ S. (2014). Lifecourse Health Development: Past, Present and Future.
Maternal Child Health Journal 18:344-365.
Nutbeam, D. (2008). The evolving concept of health literacy. Social Science & Medicine, 67, 2072-2078.
Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. (2000). From neurons to neighbourhoods. The Science of Early Childhood
Development,: National Academy Press: Washington DC.
The third era of healthcare
It started in the 1980s. Epidemiologists —they study how disease is distributed and controlled— realized that events and experiences we have in the womb —before we are even born—influence our health in middle age. Discovery of the “Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHAD) is what they mean by landmark research; it marks a turn that requires a new way of defining and measuring health, and a second transformation of healthcare services.
Halfon and colleagues trace the evolution of healthcare from the first era —1900-1950— when medical and health systems focused on germ theory and acute care of infectious disease. Around 1950, gene theory and social research led to bio-behavioral theories that said disease results from the interaction of genetic make-up and adult health behaviors. So the second era of healthcare refocused thinking and resources on chronic disease. Health promotion tried in vain to change adults’ risky behaviors. Later researchers recognized that gene networks interact with each other and the environment in complex and dynamic ways that influence how our bodies and minds are engineered and re-engineered to function in our environments. This is when we started talking about the social determinants of health.
By 2000, the synthesis of biological, behavioural and social sciences led to the slowly emerging third era of healthcare where your doctor will focus less on chronic disease diagnosis and treatment and more on lifecourse health development. The goal of Medicine will be to optimize your health
trajectory — the way your health plays out across your lifecourse, from preconception through infancy, childhood and on to old age.
Thought leaders now are talking about health as a capacity—an ability or power to understand, experience of do something. Health is used to achieve one’s potential and accomplish one’s goals.
Clarifying the Health-Literacy Link
The evolved concept of health is strikingly similar to current descriptions of literacy as an ability used to achieve ones potential and accomplish one’s goals, to function in some social context. In other words, you’re healthy and literate when you function — interact successfully— with your environment. We could say further, you are health literate when you interact with your environment in ways that optimize your health.
Context Matters. Embrace Complexity
Transition to the third era of health care requires refocusing heath literacy research and practice on the environment in which health and disease develop, that is, on the context in which people make meaning from information and use it for health and healthcare decision making and action. The goal of health literacy promotion for the third-era is to optimize a person’s or a community’s health trajectory. That means we need to be promoting maternal health literacy earlier —preconception.
Repositioning Maternal-child Heath
Further, the rapidly increasing understanding of DOHAD —the developmental origins of health and disease— positions maternal-child health at the foundation of personal and public health and at the center of an evolved third-era healthcare system. It makes maternal health literacy the foundation of a health literate society.
That’s why I am working on ways to use data to understand the contexts in which maternal-infant health and maternal health literacy develop. Successful efforts to untangle the web of interactions that influence the health trajectories of a mother and her child may answer the health literacy promoter’s essential question: Where to begin? Stay tuned.
Halfon N, Larson K, Lu M, Tullis E & Russ S. (2014). Lifecourse Health Development: Past, Present
and Future. Maternal Child Health Journal 18:344-365.