Health Literacy

What is Health Literacy?


Choosing a healthy lifestyle, knowing how to seek medical care, and taking advantage of preventive measures require that people understand and use health information. The ability to obtain and understand health information needed to make health decisions is called health literacy.

Health literacy affects people's ability to:
  • Navigate the health care system, including filling out difficult forms and finding a doctor and other health services
  • Share personal information, such as health history, with medical staff
  • Participate in self-care and chronic-disease management

What is Included in Health Literacy?


Health literacy includes understanding your numbers. For example your cholesterol and blood sugar levels, measuring medications, and understanding nutrition labels all require math skills. Choosing between health insurance plans or understanding prescription drug coverage requires calculating premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

In addition to basic reading skills, health literacy requires knowledge of health topics. People with limited health literacy / understanding often lack knowledge or have misinformation about diseases. Without this knowledge, they may not understand the relationship between lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise and a many health outcomes.

Health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced literacy / understanding skills. Medical science advances quickly. What people may have learned about health or biology during their school years often becomes outdated or forgotten, or it is incomplete. Moreover, health information provided in a stressful or unfamiliar situation is unlikely to be remembered. Given the complexity of the health care system, it is not surprising that limited health literacy is associated with poor health.

Why is Health Literacy Important?


Only 12% of adults have skilled health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly 9 out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease. 14% of adults (30 million people) have below basic health literacy. These adults were more likely to report their health as poor (42%) and are more likely to lack health insurance (28%) than adults with proficient health literacy. Low literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services. Both of these outcomes are associated with higher health care costs.

How to Improve Your Health Literacy


The Butler County Health Department will be offering classes and one-on-one sessions to families who have children birth to 18 to assist them with improving their literacy skills.

At the sessions staff will give each family with the free book “What To Do When Your Child Gets Sick” and show families how to use the book. This book tells you:
  • What to look for when your child is sick
  • When to call the doctor
  • How to take your child’s temperature
  • What to do when your child has the flu
  • How to care for cuts and scrapes
  • What to feed your child when he or she is sick
  • How to stop the spread of infection
  • How to prevent accidents around the home
  • What to do in an emergency

How to Apply


Any Butler County resident may contact the Butler County Health Department at (316) 321-3400 or (800) 940-6083 to inquiry or sign up for a class session or schedule an individual appointment. Each session will last about an hour and the sessions are free.