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Raising Awareness About Health Literacy

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R.V. Rikard

Health literacy–the ability to read, understand, and act on health-related information–poses an enormous challenge to improving health and to lowering healthcare costs in the United States. Federal policies and agencies, such as HealthyPeople 2020, the 10-yearagenda for improving national health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognize the importance of health literacy.  By some accounts, low health literacy is estimated to cost the U.S. health care system more than $58 billion annually. Yet many health care providers, payers and policymakers remain largely unaware of the extent of the problem. (See the Partnership for Clear Health Communication for more details.)

For R.V. Rikard, a doctoral student in sociology, the passion to improve health literacy grew out of work with the Communities and Health Disparities project led by Maxine Thompson in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at NC State. “The project brought together a group of sociology graduate students and faculty members, the Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina, and members of the African-American community,” he said. “We knew that low health literacy is linked to risk-taking behaviors that result in sexually transmitted infections. So we focused on developing a culturally sensitive HIV health literacy toolkit to raise HIV awareness in the African-American community.”

As part of Health Literacy Month this October, Rikard and other professionals around the country–practitioners, policymakers, and researchers alike–are making a concerted effort to raise awareness about health literacy. “I advocate for a broad, diverse, multi-disciplinary coalition of practitioners, researchers, advocates, and most importantly people from all walks of life, to examine and understand how health literacy connects to age, sex, race/ethnicity, residential location, income, education, and other areas,” he said.

RV recently contributed a blog post for a series on the national “Engaging the Patient” site from his perspective as a sociologist. The site features a roster of national experts sharing their take on the challenges of health literacy in America.

RV and his co-author’s research is also featured in a special issue of The Journal of Health Communication focused on an approach to health literacy measurement. 

He will be a guest expert in a national Twitter discussion on October 20 at 2:00 EST about the challenges related to communicating health prevention. Tune in by using the hashtag #healthlit.

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