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Group Aims to Boost Health Literacy in Georgia

September 16, 2013

Originally published on Feb. 11, 2013

Pop quiz: do you know which immunizations you need and where to get them? What about how to interpret a health insurance policy or how much exercise you need each week? The questions seem simple but finding the answers often is not, especially when they involve navigating the convoluted U.S. health care system or wading through the flood of health tips media spout.

Knowing how to find the answers to such questions is a part of basic health literacy, an area that is seriously lacking for many Americans. But a group of public health advocates are working to help change that in Georgia.

In 2010, about two dozen public health organizations from around the state formed the Georgia Alliance for Health Literacy, a group committed to increasing understanding and access to good health information in the state.

"Good information matters because people have a lot of decisions to make about their health, whether they are standing in grocery deciding what to eat, deciding whether or not to exercise that day, or going to a doctor's appointment and thinking about what questions to ask," said Cynthia Baur, health literacy advisor at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a member of the alliance.

Health literacy has been defined as the degree to which a person can obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.

But according to federal researchers, most Americans lack those abilities. Nearly nine out of 10 adults have trouble using the everyday health information available in health care facilities, retail outlets, communities and the media, according to a 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Education. Without a clear understanding of health information and its importance, people are more likely to miss medical screenings, end up in the emergency room and have a harder time managing chronic diseases. 

"Simply put, individuals cannot make sound decisions about health and wellness without a basic understanding of what's happening," said Ryan Deal, also a member and DPH's director of communications. "The only way to gain that understanding is through dialogue with the provider. And too often that's not happening."

"We're working in a new paradigm where patients and consumers are supposed to be more engaged in their health. People need to know where to go for information to help them make decisions," Baur said.

The alliance will hold its next meeting on Feb. 28 at noon at the offices of the Georgia Health Care Association in Stockbridge. DPH will host the following meeting on March 19 at 11:30 a.m. at 2 Peachtree in Atlanta. Organizations or individuals interested in joining the Georgia Alliance for Health Literacy should contact Cynthia Baur at Cynthia.baur@cdc.hhs.gov.