We need to be much more critical about what we read and hear in the news and on social media.
What is health literacy?
Health literacy is a rather new term in the health field. It entails the knowledge and motivation and competencies to find and understand and judge and use information to take decisions in everyday life. So when we are ill, when we are talking about risk factors like tobacco or smoking, when we are trying to stay healthy. But it’s also about how to navigate the healthcare system.
Why is health literacy so important?
Health literacy is important because those that have the knowledge and motivation and competencies to take care of themselves, they also do well, live better lives, use healthcare systems less. And when we have the skills with regard to health literacy, we are also empowered and we are able to trust ourselves when we deal with information and distinguishing whether this is now true or whether it’s fake news. So in the opposite, if you’re less skilled, it might be difficult and too complex to manage your health and navigate and find your way in the healthcare system. And that can have a detrimental impact. You go often to the hospital, you’re not joining screening systems, you may not know how to eat well.
What does research say about health literacy?
We know from European health literacy surveys that on average one in two face difficulties in terms of finding and understanding and using information to take action. It means that it’s not only a small proportion of people that are having difficulties, it’s actually a public health challenge that we need to tackle.
Why do so many people struggle with health information?
During the pandemic we saw how difficult it was for people to deal with health information. We need to be much more critical about what we read and hear in the news and on social media. We know that we are also faced with myths, conspiracies and people need to be able to understand what is fake news. However, we are also very challenged because sometimes fake news comes also from people we actually trust. And this is a challenging time when health is dealt with all over in the news and in social media.
How can we tackle this problem?
We can teach health literacy and digital health literacy in schools. We can ask journalists to have a more prominent role in how health is being presented in news. We can ask leadership in companies, in public and private sectors to deal with health literacy at work, because health literacy is relevant for all of us. And we need to make sure that we have access to credible information and timely information and relevant information. And a way to do that can be to establish a health data platform. So a digital health platform has so many opportunities to actually bring health to people.
Those who want to inform themselves about health topics often feel lost in the jungle of information. According to surveys, many people do not have the necessary health literacy to distinguish fake news from trustworthy information. In this video, Dr. Kristine Sørensen, President of the International Health Literacy Association, explains why health literacy is important and how a national health platform can contribute to improving health literacy.