Health Literacy Is for the Healthy

“Health Literacy” is the ability to read, understand and act upon health information. And, more than half of the American population is not proficient on this topic. Unfortunately, the above definition is the point after which most head into the wrong direction. Unless a significant misnomer, by definition, the focus of health literacy should be two-fold, enhancement of functional literacy (period) and increased attention to the issues of health.

The general public reads very little non-commercial, health-related materials, the content being very challenging. Additionally, people consume too much sugar, consume alcohol and excesses of red meats, processed grains, artificial chemical additives, too few and unvaried fruits and vegetables, and eat too much. Many also smoke, use recreational drugs, misuse prescription drugs, exercise too little and engage in other social and recreational activities that are harmful to them physically and psychologically. Much of that which I just described and many more contributors to poor personal and public health are legally accessible and even marketed to you. The question is, who is responsible for your health knowledge and healthy behaviors (health care) versus your medical status (medical care)?

Your mechanic recommends selecting quality fuels, lubricants, and other fluids, and changing them regularly. You should manage your tires’ pressure and watch tread wear. You check your brakes’ function and monitor all for all other signs of possible malfunction. And, although there are plenty of after-market and alternative products and services by which to care for your vehicles, no clear-thinking person deviates demonstrably from use/maintenance recommendations if expecting vehicles to perform well and last. Such is because motor vehicles are sold with maintenance recommendations and schedules that you read, developing your “automotive care literacy”.

The western medical professional community markedly fails to train its cadre well in subjects of prevention, health maintenance, and safe. high performance, physical fitness for the masses. This also includes failure to train them to care substantially about the health literacy of their clientele. Nationally, we spend a lot of money on a Center for Disease Control, Planned Parenthood [primarily STD/STI and services for sex-related diseases], and local public health agencies (focus upon epidemiology, primary medical care, local epidemics management). And, we wrangle politically over the role of government versus the private sector for the provision of all services, particularly those that are values-based. However, public health literacy (education) is a non-revenue generating activity and receives minimal attention.

While in the public many clamor for inalienable rights to comprehensive medical care, the general public doesn’t march for the rights to universal health literacy. Nor does it ask the government to require the market to be more responsible for promoting products, services and social behaviors consistent with universal health. Yet, we must not allow the government, nor the socially and financially empowered to suggest that speaking against “unhealthy” environments, foods, untoward products and behaviors (and effects of) is inappropriate, and thereby “politically incorrect” behavior, unless you want current vocal ideologies to drive health care and not literacy.