Kimberly Greder, Ph.D.
Extension and Outreach Specialist
Iowa State University
Yoshie Sano, Ph.D.
Department of Human Development
Washington State University- Vancouver
Sheila Mammen, Ph.D.
Department of Resource Economics
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Health literacy is “the capacity to obtain, interpret and understand basic health information and services and the competence to use such information and services to enhance health” (World Health Communication Associates Ltd., 2011, p.9). Poor health literacy is related to poorer health choices, riskier behaviors, worse health, higher mortality, more hospitalizations, and higher health costs (WHCA, 2011).
This study examined the relationship between the health literacy of 186 rural low-income mothers in Iowa, Massachusetts and Washington and the health status of mothers and their children. Mothers participated in the study, Rural Families Speak about Health (http://ruralfamiliesspeak.org/). Data were also examined by language the interview was conducted (N=82 Spanish; N=7 English) and by mothers’ use of technology to access health information. Findings: Spanish speaking mothers were more likely to have difficulty understanding printed health information shared by health professionals. Children of Spanish-speaking mothers experienced poorer health than children of English-speaking mothers. Mothers’ use of technology to find information regarding children’s health was significantly related to children’s health status, but not to mother’s health status. Children’s health status was significantly related to mothers needing assistance in reading print materials from health professionals.
Findings from this study can be applied to the development of Extension and other community education programs (including development of health related web pages) focused on improving the health and well-being of rural low income families. Extension can play a key role in providing health literacy information and training to organizations serving low income families. Additionally, Extension can help shape program and public policy by bringing stakeholders, including low income families, together to reflect upon health literacy research and its application to local communities.
Extension Specialist and Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University
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