What exactly is Health Literacy?
The Public Health Agency of Canada defines Health Literacy as “the ability to access, comprehend, evaluate and communicate information as a way to promote, maintain and improve health in a variety of settings across the life-course”.
To put it more simply, health literacy means being able to obtain and understand information relating to our health. We need to be critical when looking at health claims and advertising presented to us. Some health claims are based on research and evidence, while other claims are inaccurate and unsupported (and, in some cases, can be dangerous).
Studies show that people with higher health literacy are healthier. When you are able to understand and use health information, you have the important components to build a healthy lifestyle (including taking preventative measures to avoid illness, and knowing how and when to seek medical care).
However, figures show that 60% of adults and 88% of seniors in Canada are not health literate. This means a lot of us may have difficulty using the health information that is available in health care facilities, grocery stores, retail outlets, schools, through the media, and in our communities.
We can all benefit from gaining clarity and knowledge to improve our health literacy, and the following strategies can help:
Stay Curious & Ask Questions
Being curious leads us to explore, investigate and learn. Curiosity gives us the drive and motivation to acquire valuable health information, by questioning expert sources and unravelling new subject areas. Find the things that motivate you to continue, and ask for clarification if something doesn’t make sense to you.
Be Your Own Health Advocate
When it comes down to it, we have a lot of control over our health, and the freedom to choose the type of lifestyle we live. For many of us, our health is our most prized possession and we must value and treasure it. We must treat our minds and bodies kindly, and sometimes fight for what is best for ourselves. Learn tips on becoming your own health advocate in a health care setting.
We don’t always have the answers for health questions – no one does! It is okay to ask for help and consult with expert sources as you make decisions about your health.
Do the Research
When something piques your interest, research it! And I don’t mean reading bogus articles with fancy clickbait headlines (you may have seen some on your news feed). While it may seem difficult to sift through the information available at our fingertips, I highly encourage you to explore reliable websites. Some credible sources include not-for-profit organizations, government health agencies, and educational institutions. Here are some to use as a starting place:
- UBC Human Resources – Staff & Faculty Health
- Workhealthlife by Shepell
- Health Canada
- Government of Canada – Healthy Canadians
- Heart and Stroke Foundation
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Dietitians of Canada
Take What You Read with a Grain of Salt & Be Critical
A lot of health information is confusing. There is a lot of conflicting claims circulating. Do what makes sense to you at the time. Learn questions to evaluate the reliability of online information. You can also read these tips on evaluating health information online.
Communicate Clearly with Patients (for healthcare providers)
If you are a health care provider, here are 8 ways to improve health literacy with patients to help improve safety and reliability of care.