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The Importance of Health Literacy

Published By: Majdulina Hamed

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Health equity is an important issue to consider when it comes to disparities in health care. More specifically, focusing on health literacy can be a way to start in order to communicate with homeless communities about better overall health. Although there are several factors and limitations that may arise, it is important to understand and recognize how health literacy has an impact on the homeless population.

Firstly, it is crucial to define what health literacy is so that we can further discuss how it relates to the homeless population. According to Odoh et. al., “Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand health information and services, and apply that acquired information in health decision-making” (2019). Studies that investigated the correlation between health literacy among homeless individuals revealed that individuals who were health literate reported better health compared to those who were not as health literate. This also shows that the individuals who are not health literate have “high rates of chronic illness, trauma, and co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders compared to the general population” (McGonagle et. al., n.d.). Health literacy is also tied to health equity in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges health equity as “the attainment of the highest lever of health for all people” (CDC, 2022). Health equity can be achieved when barriers to accessing healthcare are removed or decreased.

Additionally, health literacy can mean the difference between access to care and chronic illnesses. “Poor health literacy is a significant problem, especially among homeless individuals who already bear a disproportionate burden of disease and disability and require high level of care and access to health services” (Odoh et. al., 2019). Moreover, this can also lead to reduced understanding of prevention and treatment of diseases. However, just understanding the concept of health literacy is not enough because the application and use of health information is imperative for people to have quality health care. Making well informed decision is especially important for vulnerable populations because of the impact health literacy has on health disparities such as social determinants. More specifically, limited health literacy can be linked to education, income, and other socioeconomic factors. For instance, “individuals with lower education levels were more likely to exhibit poor/limited health literacy” (Odoh et. al., 2019). In order to address these issues, resources and initiatives must be put in place for this community so that there is an increased access to preventive care.

Lastly, figuring out not only the appropriate approach but also well-informed approaches that individuals experiencing homelessness can take is essential to improving health literacy rates. “Targeting members of this hard-to-reach population directly is not the most effective way to tackle their health literacy challenges” (McGonagle et. al, n.d.). Instead, reaching out to the individuals who interact with this group can efficiently and more effectively address the issues of health literacy. Another approach could be for homeless shelters to “focus on intervention materials with lower reading levels that are engaging” (Odoh et. al., 2019) so that they can improve their ability to understand which ultimately affects their overall health. Health literacy training tailored for the homeless community will also provide to be beneficial in order to remove the barrier to accessing healthcare.

All in all, focusing on health literacy is especially important to the homeless population because health equity still needs to be reached. Several socioeconomic factors influence homelessness regarding barriers to healthcare. Furthermore, higher rates of health literacy can contribute to access to preventive care as well as making well-informed decisions for one’s health. Intervention resources, tailoring reading materials, and identifying inequities that people are dealing with are a few approaches that can assist in helping the homeless with health literacy.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, February 2). What is health literacy? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/learn/index.html

McGonagle, K., Berman, C., & Greene, N. (n.d.). Integrating health literacy into homelessness services. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://iha4health.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Integrating-Health-Literacy-into-Homelessness-Services.pdf

Odoh, C., Vidrine, J. I., Businelle, M. S., Kendzor, D. E., Agrawal, P., & Reitzel, L. R. (2019). Health Literacy and Self-Rated Health among Homeless Adults. Health behavior research2(4), 13. https://doi.org/10.4148/2572-1836.1055

About the author
Majdulina Hamed
Majdulina Hamed is a Master’s Health Administration graduate from the University of Central Florida. Maj also received her Bachelor’s degree in Human Communication from UCF as well as certificates in Health Communication and Leadership. Maj’s goals include public health education through health campaigns, initiatives, marketing, and communication.

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