Knowledge & Health Literacy

Pillar 1 of the seven pillars is theoretical knowledge and understanding of health, disease and self-care. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health literacy as representing “The cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways to promote and maintain good health”.

Health literacy is important because…

Health literacy also helps individuals to distinguish bad information from good. Modern societies perhaps inadvertently tend to promote unhealthy lifestyles, and often do so in ways that are more prominent or easier to access than information regarding healthier choices. An example would be the abundance of advertising for fast food during prime time television versus the more scant public health messages advertising good food choices. Improved health literacy helps people to recognise this, and interpret it appropriately.

Lack of health literacy is the cause of…

WHO recommendations for health literacy…

The WHO Regional Office for Europe released a publication in 2013 entitled “Health Literacy” as part of the “Solid Facts” series which states: “Ideally, a health literate individual is able to seek and assess the health information required: to understand and carry out instructions for self-care, including administering complex daily medical regimens; to plan and achieve the lifestyle adjustments required for improving their health; to make informed positive health-decisions; to know how and when to access health care when necessary; and to share health-promoting activities with others and address health issues in the community and society”.

A more detailed list of the recommended components of individual’s health literacy would include:

·Understanding that people have an opportunity to protect their own health

·Knowing where to look for health information and how to use it

·Knowledge of health and its determinants

·Knowledge of common diseases and their causes

·Knowledge of the major risk factors of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and of other avoidable risks to health

·Understanding self-care, e.g. the seven pillars

·Understanding the value of health screenings at key life points

·Knowing how to use self-care products safely and effectively

·Understanding medicines and vaccines

·Knowing when to seek professional advice

·Knowing how to join, help and motivate others such as family members

·Understanding the indirect determinants of health, such as understanding food labelling 

·Assess yourself

Future section on self-assessment in health literacy

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