National and international policy documents frame improving health literacy as a pragmatic intervention to reduce health disparities. But what links health literacy and disparities?
Since the social determinants of health shape parents' health and health literacy, which in turn shape their children's early development and adult disease; health disparities start even before birth and perpetuate. Therefore, health follows the social gradient and disease concentrates among the disadvantaged. Improving maternal health literacy, and in the process empowering disadvantaged mothers, can reduce disparities by enabling mothers to better reduce risk, maximize protective factors, and obtain the benefits of health and social services.
Further, mothers make 80% of health care decisions for their families, take them to appointments (84%) and ensure they get recommended care (79%). The LSP health literacy studies indicate that mothers retain and hone their improved skills.
Furthermore, by default or by design, mothers pass their skills —whatever they are— to their children in the course of everyday interactions. For these reasons, it is a logical health and financial imperative to make maternal health literacy the first priority in health literacy research and intervention that aims to reduce disparities and future burdens of chronic disease.
Ranji U & Salganicoff A. (2011). Key Findings from the Kaiser Women's Health Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation
US Dept of Labor General Facts on Women and Job Based Health (2013)