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Teaching Health Literacy

We value literacy highly in Canada. Internationally, high rates of literacy are associated with better standards of living and better health outcomes. However, being highly educated and literate does not always ensure that we are “health literate.”

It is estimated that only 12% of Ameri- cans are health literate. Our rates may be slightly better in Canada. Health literacy helps our children to be better health care consumers. It helps them to make more informed decisions. Understanding their bodies and their conditions can help to make illness less frightening to them.

Basic health literacy is even more important in the “information age” when our children are exposed to conflicting and erroneous information on social media and the internet. The effort to improve health literacy must begin early in the home. There are several key areas that children need to have health literacy in.

1. Anatomy- understanding one’s body and its basic inner workings can help children and adults better understand their illnesses. It also gives children the vocabulary to describe potential sexual abuse.

2. Nutrition- the food industry targets a young audience. Our children need to be media savvy but also be able to understand the negative effects of the sugar laden cereal that is being promoted.

3. Physical Activity – A sedentary lifestyle is as dangerous as smoking and knowledge about the importance of activity is key to preventing many chronic diseases.

4. Self Advocacy- It is important that our children be empowered to become active consumers of their health care. The content of the information and choices will change as they become adults, but the message that they can work in partnership with their health care providers is a lasting one.

Teach your children health literacy. It will go a long way to ensuring their health.

Dr. Bhooma Bhayana is a family physician in London and the mother of two young men and grandmother of one lovely princess! She continues to find wonder and enjoyment in family practice despite more than 30 years on the job!


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