According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, health literacy is “…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.” 
In short, health literacy is our ability to take in and understand information in ways that enhance our health-related decisions and behaviours. This process sounds straightforward, but in the age of open and on-demand access to information, becoming health literate can be a challenge. The overwhelming amount of information that we’re exposed to can make it difficult to find both the time, and mental capacity, to sort through it all.
Remember when the media reported that chocolate could help you lose weight? Turns out it was all an elaborate prank by a group of researchers to demonstrate how easy it was to manipulate study results into ‘evidence’. (Read all about it here.) This is perhaps an extreme example, but it shows how easily health information can be misrepresented and how this in turn influences our behaviour.
This month, I’m sharing ways to help you build and flex your muscles in an effort to become savvier at discerning facts from fads (or falsehoods).
Your Health Literacy Workout Plan
Step 1: Get to the source.
Start with the domain name and URL. Look for sites that end in .ca, .com, or .org. Next, try to find the original source of the claim/information. In this era of content convergence and integration, many articles tend to reference another source. Check that the information is from a peer-reviewed article in an academic journal.
Step 2: Examine the evidence.
Even if a study is reporting significant findings, things like sample size, population demographics and researcher bias can lead to inaccurate information translation.
Step 3: Check for affiliations.
We are in the midst of a ‘wellness revolution’ with companies trying to sell wellbeing in a variety of ways (e.g. supplements, services, products, workouts). Before buying into a product or claim, find out if the author is affiliated with the company in any way or even receiving payment/sponsorship for their endorsement. Many magazine and online advertisements are commonly disguised as research-based articles.
Step 4: Think before you share.
You may not realize it, but people in your professional, social and family circles might look to you as an expert on health and wellbeing. In an effort to ensure we are passing along accurate health information, be mindful of where, and with whom, you are sharing.
Step 5: Repeat steps as needed.
This month, I encourage you to delve a little deeper when the next great health claim comes along. Put your newfound skills to the test and be sure to act or react based on solid evidence.
Wishing you a wonderful start to the summer season!
All my best,