Have you ever gone to a doctor’s appointment and received medical information and then wondered what any of it meant? If so, you’re not alone. Only about 12% of the American population has levels above an intermediate health literacy.
A majority of Americans can read basic health graphs and can locate health services. However, taking care of your health is extremely important, and it should be part of your daily routine — not just when you need to take a trip to the doctor or dentist.
What is Health Literacy?
When you think of general literacy, it’s how well someone can read, process and understand written information. Health literacy is similar to that. It’s the extent to which someone can acquire, process and understand information related to their health and health services. Having health literacy allows someone to make proper health decisions for themselves or their family.
Patients are not the only ones who should be health literate. Anyone working in the medical field, from the doctor or nurse to a pharmacist, needs to be health literate. They don’t only need to give patients appropriate care, but they have to communicate effectively so that they understand their medical problems or needs.
Environmental Health Literacy
Factors in the environment can have a significant impact on your health. Pollution causes diseases. Climate change is affecting your health more than you may know it. When you know more about your health and can understand health services and information, you can positively impact the environment.
Environmental health literacy (EHL) has been an emerging area of study over the past few years. It links environmental exposures and health so people can better understand how environmental contaminants affect overall health.
The following are a couple of ways that higher health literacy can benefit the environment.
A Higher Health Literacy Can Limit Pollution
When you understand factors around you that can be detrimental to your health, you’ll probably want to take action to limit them. Outdoor air pollution is a major cause of death and disease. Globally, over 4 million deaths per year are a result of strokes, lung cancers, heart disease and respiratory issues, most likely caused by pollution.
Perhaps a loved one receives health information from a doctor that they can’t understand, and it’s related to a lung illness caused by environmental pollutants. If they can’t comprehend the data, they probably won’t do much to change their environment.
However, with proficient health literacy, they may take action to reduce their pollution and tell family or friends how they can help. A reduction in pollution benefits the environment in so many ways, including improved health of humans, animals and plant life.
Health Literacy Can Reduce Poverty
People living in poverty generally have lower health literacy, which then leads to lower health outcomes. Plus, those who are socially disadvantaged often need the most health care. Impoverished people are less likely to be able to navigate health care systems.
If impoverished communities are equipped with the means to be literate in their health needs, they may have a higher chance of overcoming poverty. Therefore, with lower poverty rates due to an increased level of health literacy, the environment can become more sustainable.
How does that work?
When people in poverty receive education and resources that lift them out of poverty, they may be able to invest in more sustainable energy resources. For instance, solar power or wind rather than coal or wood-burning energy sources.
Here’s another way of looking at it. If you don’t have access to proper plumbing, it may be hard to avoid land pollution. Also, if people aren’t able to go to school, they’ll have a more difficult time learning how they can be the change for a healthy environment.
The environment profits when health literacy is made available and accessible to the poor.
How to Improve Your Health Literacy
If you want to better the environment and your health simultaneously, you can take a few steps to improve your health literacy so you can receive the best care.
- Ask questions: Your doctors are there to help you. If something confuses you or you don’t understand what your doctor said, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about prescription side effects, why a certain medication was prescribed or why your doctor recommends surgery.
- Repeat the information: A phone call or appointment with your doctor can leave you with information overload. Summarize the data back to your provider. This allows you to clarify the information in your own words, and it lets your doctor know if you comprehended it.
- Be truthful: The best way to receive proper care is when you tell your doctor the truth. Tell them about the environment around you, your daily exercise regimen, what you eat or how much pain you are in.
- Brush up on your medical history: You’ve probably been asked about family medical history at an appointment. If you don’t know, try to research that information by asking fellow family members. You should also know your personal medical history — any surgeries you’ve had, the medications you take or if you have a chronic illness.
- Ask for an interpreter: You have the right to an interpreter so you can receive medical information in a language you’re comfortable using.
Healthcare professionals should also improve their health literacy to make sure patients best comprehend important medical information.
Health Literacy Matters
Health literacy has a direct impact on both your health and the environment around you. Begin improving your health literacy today so you can make an impact on the environment tomorrow.
Written by Jennifer Landis who is a writer and blogger.