You've probably heard the word "literacy" (say: lit-er-eh-see). It's often used when people are talking about being able to read. If you're reading this, then you're literate!
But there's another kind of literacy called health literacy. Health literacy means that you can understand information about your health, so you know how to take care of yourself and make good decisions.
If you have a health condition, such as asthma, being health literate means that you know what asthma is and you know how to treat it. It means you have gone to a trustworthy source, like your doctor, and received information that you understood. And now, if you have any breathing troubles, you know that you take a certain number of puffs from your inhaler. You also know when to call the doctor or go to the emergency department for more serious problems.
Steps to Health Literacy
It's important for both kids and adults to be health literate. Health literacy can be a serious problem for people who are older or who don't speak English. They may get health information or instructions from their doctor that they don't understand. As a result, they may not know how much medicine to take or how to best take care of their illness.
To be health literate, a person must:
know where to get health information
understand the health information he or she finds
apply the information to make good decisions about health
Maybe you know a person who can't read well. If so, you might be able to help by reading instructions to him or her. But sometimes it's not easy to be health literate, even if you can read and understand English. Some sources, such as friends or a TV show, might give you wrong information. Other times, the source is good, such as a doctor, but the information given is confusing or unclear. You walk away thinking, "Huh? What am I supposed to do?"
But many doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are working to make health information easier to understand. It makes sense because when people get good health information and understand it, they can use it in their lives and be healthier.
KidsHealth wanted to find out more about health literacy among kids, so we asked 1,178 boys and girls a bunch of questions about their health and how they get health information. Here's what they said:
Lots of kids say they would turn to trusted people if they had an important health question.
31% would ask a parent
29% would ask a doctor or nurse
21% would ask a teacher
Other kids said "somewhere else" or the Internet. Kids said they would not trust their friends or TV for health information. About three quarters of the kids said those two sources give the most wrong information about health.
How do you know if you have a good source for health info? You want the person, book, or Internet site to be reliable and likely to give you correct information. You might ask yourself: How does this person know about health? If a kid at school tells you the best thing for a cold is pickle juice, you know that's not a trustworthy source. The kid didn't go to medical school and is probably just pulling your leg!
But if your doctor or nurse tells you that rest and drinking fluids are good for a cold, you can believe it's true. They went to school to learn about health and it's their job to take care of kids.
In addition to having a good source who has correct information, you need to understand what that source is saying. Maybe it's your mom talking to you about eating healthy food or something you read on the Internet about how much exercise kids need. If you don't get what the person is saying, or has written, you don't know what to do next.
About 37%, or less than half of all kids, said health information was very easy to understand. Another 41% said it was sort of easy to understand. About 22% said it was sort of hard or very hard to understand.
It's not surprising that health information is sometimes confusing. It's confusing even for grown-ups. Health and the body are complicated scientific subjects. What can do if you get health information, but you don't understand it? Ask questions. Ask about websites or books where you could find more information.
You can ask questions at the doctor's office, too. Sometimes you need to be quiet — like when the doctor is listening to your lungs with the stethoscope. But there are also usually times during an appointment when you can ask questions like, "Hey, what are you looking for in my ear?"
Sometimes you don't have questions until later. That's OK. You could write them down for next time or ask your parents to help you find the answers.
The same goes for health class. If you don't understand what the teacher is saying, ask questions. If you're embarrassed about the question, write it down or ask it after class. Your health teacher wants you to understand so you can take good care of yourself. Asking questions and learning more is a great way for kids to take responsibility for their health.
Speaking of taking care of yourself, almost 80% of kids say they are very interested or sort of interested in learning about health. And 80% of kids also knew that what they do as kids can affect how healthy they will be as adults. For instance, just by eating a healthy diet and being active, kids can help maintain a healthy weight. Kids who grow up at a healthy weight are less likely to be overweight as adults.
Doing something like wearing a bike helmet also can make a big difference. They help kids avoid head injuries that could hurt their brains. And when a kid's brain gets injured, it can affect thinking, walking, and other important body functions.
We also asked kids on how well they follow what they are taught about health. About 66% said they tried to follow health advice all the time or most of the time. About 20% said they follow the advice sometimes. That's a lot of kids who are trying to do the right thing. But about 15% of kids said they followed health advice hardly ever or never.
Adults also have trouble following the health advice they get. It can be tough to exercise after a long day at work. It's hard for kids, too, to eat fruits and vegetables or to remember a bike helmet every time. But the more kids learn about health and start taking these steps on their own, the healthier kids will be. So tell your friends, tell your parents: Let's all get health literate!
What's a KidsPoll?
The group that took this KidsPoll included an almost equal number of boys and girls who were between 9 and 13 years old. They answered the questions on handheld data devices while visiting these health education centers and children's museums:
Byrnes Health Education Center — York, Pennsylvania
Children's Health Education Center — Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Crown Center for Health Education — Hinsdale, Illinois
CDC Global Health Odyssey Museum — Atlanta, Georgia
Health Exploration Station — Canton, Michigan
HealthSpace, Cleveland — Cleveland, Ohio
HealthWorks! Kids Museum — South Bend, Indiana
Health World Children's Museum — Barrington, Illinois
Lilly Health Education Center — Indianapolis, Indiana
Poe Center for Health Education — Raleigh, North Carolina
Weller Health Education Center — Easton, Pennsylvania
A poll, like the KidsPoll, asks people a list of questions. Then researchers compile all the answers and look at the way the group answered. They calculate how many — or what percentage — answered "yes" to this question and "no" to that one. Polls give us clues about how most people — not just the ones who answered the poll questions — feel about certain issues.
We'll be conducting more KidsPolls in the future to find out what kids say — maybe you'll be part of one!