Do you remember the Saturday morning message from School House Rock reminding us that knowledge is power? I have found that to be true, especially concerning health. In the age we live in, we have a variety of resources to gain knowledge from. Health literacy is an area I love to explore. Finding ways to be whole and healthy has expanded from a hobby to become a mission for me.
Health Literacy Introduction
Health literacy is about understanding your health and those things you can do to influence your health. It is about having credible and accessible information supporting sustainable changes and decisions that promote health in the long-term.
In my work as a nurse, I used to gasp when a patient identified their pills by color instead of the name. When I asked why they take a certain medication, their response was “I just do what the doctor tells me to.” This seems to be such a common practice supported by so many doctor-patient interactions that I end up sounding out of place. I have observed patients nodding in agreement, then shaking their heads refusing to ask questions of the doctor. Once the doctor leaves, they want to argue with me unclear about what the doctor had said. They ask me the questions not feeling that they could engage with the doctor. Being literate about your health is taking responsibility for your well-being. Doctors and nurses are helpful, but you can and should play an active role in your health.
Health literacy can take a few different forms. For beginners, think about what you put into your body. This can include medications, food, alcohol, and other chemicals. As for food and medications, you can read the labels. Find out the ingredients. In this age of smart phones, research the information on labels as you shop. Explore the history and source of what you purchase. Some of the names are long, like N-acetyl-p-aminophenol—something to relieve pain. I can’t pronounce them myself. But, don’t let that hinder you from learning about what effect it has on your body.
Other ways to gain knowledge include computers, reading material, videos or speaking with a health care worker. Do not worry if you do not have a computer at home, the library has them available along with tons of reading materials. I do understand there are those cases where being literate may be a challenge for some. If you cannot read or comprehend medical terminology, having someone teach you that you trust can be beneficial.
When it comes to alcohol and other chemicals, the first step for the beginner is to know ALL the health impacts of depressants, stimulants, dilators, relaxers, and inhibitors. Other impacts account for changes to the function and health of vital organs such as liver, kidneys, and lungs. A great example is the way that alcohol is processed in the body and converted to sugar potentially stored as fat. My goal is that fewer people come into the hospital clueless as to the cause of their illness. Lifestyle and health choice has consequences—some sooner and more complicated, some more painful than you thought.
Conclusion: Health for All
In conclusion, health literacy is for everyone, not just the health nuts. Children can learn too. When we show them how to be responsible for their health, we give them a jump start to a healthy future. This is not an endeavor you have to do alone. If you simply do not know something, ask someone you trust that has your best interest at heart. And, please remember your health includes both physical and mental health.
[Taunya is nurse, author, and MAWMedia Group’s Director of Health Literacy (DOHL). Find her author page at facebook.com/authorTSW]