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How to Promote Students' Health Literacy

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over a few ways by which a student's health literacy can be improved. It will outline general strategies but also provide some more specific ways by which this can be accomplished.

What Is Health Literacy?

Are you able to find health information pretty easily? Can you understand it well? Will you be able to apply that information in a manner that helps you make a proper health decision? If so, then you have good health literacy. This is the ability to find, understand, and apply basic health information.

The problem is that research has shown that many students have poor health literacy. This lesson goes over some of the techniques by which student health literacy may be improved.

Locating & Reading Sources

One of the first steps in promoting student health literacy is teaching students where they can find the information they need and what information they can trust. First, students should be taught basic skills like using the computer and internet or the library to find information. After they've mastered these simple but fundamental things, they need to be taught to discriminate between proper sources of information and improper ones.

For example, students should be taught that health information websites maintained by U.S. government agencies, such as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are credible sources of health information.

Due to conflicting factors, such as associations with drug advertisement companies, privately held health information websites should be considered less adequate sources of information and they should not be relied upon for any decision making for a wide variety of reasons. Even worse than these are personal blogs of John Doe and many news articles where health information is often unintentionally skewed or simply wrong.

One of the challenges of health literacy is the ability to read and understand the sources of information. Many government websites are written using simple terminology and are thus another reason for why such sources of health information should be encouraged. Some websites provide glossaries for any technical jargon they may use and students should be shown where to find these glossaries. Students who have disabilities, such as vision impairment, can be shown how to adjust a screen's resolution size, a browser's zoom settings, or a website's font size so they are able to properly read the information.

Comprehending & Retaining Information

What's even more difficult than finding it, is comprehending and retaining the information that has been read. This is why students should be encouraged to participate in activities that help them understand and recall what they've read later on. Here are just a couple examples.

Let's say that in today's class they've found and read some information on how to properly take medication X. You can bring in candy, such as M & Ms, as well as pill splitters in order to help them retain what they just read. The M & Ms can represent medication X. Each student should be told how many milligrams of medication X are represented by 1 M & M and how many pills or milligrams they should take each day. Each student should then work out how many M & Ms to 'take' and how and if they would need to use a pill splitter to get the right dose.

Repeat, repeat, and repeat to ensure students have nailed down this basic but important concept. They will be reading prescription bottles with similar information in the future so hands-on activities like these can really help improve their health literacy, which includes numerical literacy.

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