One of the first academic achievements in our lives was the development of literacy skills. Our parents and teachers helped us back in those early years of our lives to learn how to speak, read, write and use the language with confidence. But since Life Is A Never Ending Learning Process we have been acquiring many other competencies through our lives such as computer literacy or financial literacy. But the importance of being competent in looking after your own health is a matter of self-preservation.
Health literacy is usually defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. In more simple words, it refers to ways in which we access or obtain information important to our health from health professionals, medical institutions, medical products, and other sources; and how we make sense of and transfer into practice such information.
Like back in the school days, when not writing an assay had certain risks for our grade, poor health literacy is a potential health risk factor, but in a much more complex way. Overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise, ignoring symptoms are often associated with a lack of understanding of health advice from public health recommendations and medical professionals. It has been also shown that poor health literacy affects people’s ability to correctly follow prescription instructions for medications and their capacity to self-manage illnesses.
Due to this lack of understanding of health advice, some of us even used to believe that we were destined to be 350 pounds, ‘’because even though I’m following nutritionist’s advice to avoid fast food and eat lots of fruits and vegetables.’’
Many studies demonstrated that low health literacy is more common among people with fewer years of educational attainment and lower income, but even individuals with high educational attainment may have low health literacy. Also, health literacy declines during aging. The good news is that once you have the will to become self-aware of your food and lifestyle choices and adhere to, for example, internet-based health intervention during which you’d receive regular health-related newsletter, attend monthly meetings with your health coach, or you simply engage in social and cultural activities exchanging experiences with others, education level or your age doesn’t matter anymore – low health literacy does not preclude successful prevention of weight gain or weight loss.
Multiple studies showed that lifestyle interventions aimed at improving adults’ knowledge and skills for weight loss i.e. health literacy by providing relevant diet information to participants either during one-to-one, group sessions or the combination of the two with primary health care providers resulted in significant weight loss and/or BMI.
To sum up, religiously reading the food labels without fully understanding them, won’t help you shed those extra pounds. Continuous processing and comprehension of information you pick up will empower you to make good food choices in the long run.