Foulk, David; Carroli, Pamela; Wood, Susan Nelson
January 2001
American Journal of Health Studies;2001, Vol. 17 Issue 1, p7
Academic Journal
Abstract: Nearly one in three Americans is functionally illiterate. This is a fact of obvious concern to literacy professionals, those who specialize in promoting children's and adults abilities to use reading, listening, speaking, writing, and critical thinking to participate in society, and a statistic the health care industry also regards as critical (Kefalides, 1999). Clearly, functional illiteracy is one of the most significant problems facing the world's society. Although such citizens might be able to read words, they cannot understand their meanings, synthesize information, or make decisions based on what they read, resulting in negative impacts on the economic, physical health, and social well being of communities. While the connections between literacy levels and health have long been identified as a serious problem, one with implications in both fields (Hohn, 1998), collaboration across the disciplines has been less common (Rudd, Zacharia, and Daube, 1998). In this paper, we explore the illiteracy issue, examine the point at which health and literacy issues intersect, and address the goal of health literacy by offering recommendations for literacy and health practitioners. We present specific examples of the literacy demands necessary for adults to arrange and maintain proper health care for themselves and their children. Aspart of our discussion, we consider results from the National Survey of Adult Literacy (NALS) in terms of the potential effect that functional illiteracy has on health. In addition, we explore how poverty compounds the problem as we consider the impact that living in poverty has on adults' abilities to make good decisions about health and health care for themselves and for their children. Finally, we offer some suggestions for how governmental, educational, private, religious, and other volunteer organizations can collaborate in new ways, in order to address and improve what we call “Health Literacy.”


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