Health literacy and physicians: talking about obesity with patients using Fitwits

square icon with "health literacy" in centerObesity has reached epidemic proportions, with one out of three children and two out of three adults in the U.S. being overweight or obese. Being overweight is so common that we seldom notice it. And words such as “obesity” and “overweight” are so freighted with judgement and shame that physicians are loath to bring it up for fear of offending their patients. So why not create a game that helps broach the subject in a safe way? Continue reading

Health literacy begins with parents

square icon with "health literacy" in centerIn a recent blog post, the Center for Health Literacy Promotion lists its “Top 4 Reasons to Promote Maternal Health Literacy”:

  1. Health literacy is a key determinant of health
  2. Health literacy means empowerment: the capacity to make choices and transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. (World Bank)
  3. Efforts are highly leveraged in pregnancy and early parenting
  4. Mothers’ health literacy is an important factor in prevention of noncommunicable diseases that are now the leading causes of death in the US and globally.

Fathers also have a critical role to play in their children’s health literacy, and their lives as a whole. In the traditional view of a father as the “breadwinner”, the health of a child is clearly impacted by the ability of the father to generate enough income to cover the costs of adequate food and water, housing, supervision, etc. “These aspects of the children’s quality of life contribute to health outcomes (e.g., nutrition deficits, obesity, respiratory infections, injuries, etc.)” (Ball and Moselle, 2007, p.7). Ball and Moselle go on to point out that research tends to focus more on fathers’ relationship to these quality of life issues, rather than on their direct effect on child health. Yet if we use a more wholistic or ecological view of the family and health, it becomes clear that the environment that children are raised in can greatly influence their opportunities for healthy development.

Good health is more than being free from pain and illness. It also means being able to enjoy life, have fulfilling relationships, and engage in meaningful work. Children who have close relationships with their fathers are less likely to engage in substance abuse, and more likely to do well in school. And since higher levels of education are correlated with better health outcomes, this is one example of how a father has an impact on a child’s health literacy. And a father’s involvement in their children’s lives is self-reinforcing: the more they learn about being an effective parent and enjoy it, the more they will engage in that relationship (Ball and Moselle, 2007).

Our country needs to put policies into place that will allow all parents full access to:

  • Meaningful work that pays a living wage, reducing stress in the household and providing time for parents to develop adequate parenting skills and quality relationships with their children
  • World-class education designed to help every child succeed to their full potential
  • Complete healthcare for all, to assure that each succeeding generation will


Ball, J., & Moselle, K. (2007). Fathers’ Contributions to Children’s Well-being. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Smith, S. (2013). Top 4 Reasons to Promote Maternal Health LiteracyCenter for Health Literacy Promotion Blog.

Health literacy-targeted interventions work

logoHealthLiteracyHealth literacy is the ability of individuals to recognize the need for, obtain, process, critically evaluate and understand health information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions. More and more research is demonstrating that when patient materials are adjusted for their intended audience, overall patient outcomes are better.

In a recent discussion paper on “Integrating health literacy with health care performance measurements” (DeWalt & McNeill, 2013), the IOM delineates a number of situations where health literacy-targeted interventions work:

  • Caregivers who received plain-language, pictogram-based instructions were less likely to make errors in liquid medication dosing, and more likely to use a standardized instrument for measuring and administration.
  • Diabetics are more likely to show improved control over their diabetes.
  • Patients receiving a revised pamphlet with lower grade level readability scored higher on a comprehension test.

In general, understandable educational materials, and good verbal communication strategies help improve care for patients with low health literacy levels.


DeWalt, D. A., & McNeill, J. (2013). Integrating Health Literacy with Health Care Performance Measurement. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine.