health literacy

The importance of health literacy during a pandemic

With so much information being shared on the internet and on social media, separating fact from fiction can be difficult. The ability to identify and apply helpful information to our daily lives is hard, especially when we don’t know what’s real and what’s fake. Fake news can have devastating consequences – even more so during a pandemic.

One of the most common types of misinformation that circulated the Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic was related to health protocols. Without proper health literacy, not only are individuals putting themselves at risk, but others as well.

What is health literacy?

Health literacy means the level at which an individual can obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.

It includes knowing how to describe symptoms, where to find help for health issues, how to understand medical information and how to safely manage the use of medication.

Understanding and making effective decisions about health issues requires strong literacy skills, yet almost half of Canadians lack them. However, low health literacy doesn’t just affect those with low literacy. In fact, there are more adults with low health literacy than there are with low levels of prose literacy (the ability to understand and use information from texts), according to a 2008 report from the Canadian Council on Learning.

Why health literacy is important

Like the Coronavirus, poor health literacy is a global-wide issue – and a widely underestimated one at that. But this fatal health threat requires everyone to follow health guidelines – not just those who are health literate.

Those who lack health literacy skills are less likely to be socially responsible when it comes to changing their unsafe, social behaviours. This can lead to the virus spreading even more, despite several people following rules such as physical distancing.

Furthermore, the uniqueness of the virus means that there is a high degree of knowledge uncertainty – even amongst health-literate officials such as public health experts and politicians. This kind of uncertainty can cause many individuals with low health literacy skills to resort to making unreasonable choices – such as panic shopping or not following any physical distancing rules at all.

Prevent the spread of the virus with health literacy

In order for countries to successfully distribute helpful, life-saving information to its citizens, it’s important that health literacy is acknowledged. If people are provided with valid reasons for certain health recommendations and think carefully about the possible outcomes from their actions, they may be more likely to act socially responsible and help stop the spread.

To do so, a sense of solidarity must be created between individuals who provide information and those who require information. When citizens are health literate, they can understand the severity of a situation and can understand safety measures to follow for themselves and others. Health literate citizens can more easily understand basic actions such as physical distancing and hand hygiene.

How to increase health literacy skills

ABC Life Literacy offers a number of free health literacy resources for adult learners. If you’re interested in learning more about the free programs and resources that we can provide your literacy organization, contact us.