Happy October! If you did not know, October is Health Literacy Month. Health Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
The US Department of Health and Human Services takes the matter of health literacy very seriously. They conducted a study where health literacy was split into four different levels: proficient, intermediate, basic, and below basic. The findings of this study were startling, with only 12% of Americans having proficient health literacy.
In researching this issue, it seems like the biggest barrier contributing to the low number of individuals with proficient health literacy is confusion. A study conducted in 2004 by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academics backs up this claim. According to the report, the effort to improve the problem of health literacy starts with everyone involved in causing the problem. “To start reducing the negative effects of limited health literacy, health service providers and people in the community must be knowledgeable, aware, and responsive to the health literacy of patients and consumers.”
This is where parks and recreation departments can be part of the solution. Your department can implement a few practices on the community level to encourage positive health literacy levels.
When thinking about wellness, it is important for individuals to assess how much they know about their own health, and what they can do to maintain or improve it. Assessing your own health can be difficult, but there are online tools like this one that can help.
In your parks and recreation programs, it would be very beneficial to offer similar self assessments for participants. The data gained from these assessments will help allow for participant self reflection. Additionally, the information communicated to the individual will help raise their health literacy.
Health fairs can also be conducted to allow your communities and staff to be cognizant of their health literacy. I know that planning health fairs can be a daunting task, but in the long run they are crucial to communicate useful health information to the public. Individuals who may not be able to visit the doctor on a routine basis may be able to attend health fairs. There are a lot of useful resources online to assist in the planning process of health fairs. Hopefully, the end result from a health fair will leave attendees with a better knowledge of their health, and what they can do to make appropriate health decisions.
I hope that this wellness blog has made you aware of health literacy month. With a few steps, parks and recreation departments can be on the forefront of improving health literacy in our communities.