In the Second Report on the Health of Canadians, Toward
a Healthy Future, literacy for the first time was identified as one of
the determinants of health. This document prepared by the Federal, Provincial
and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health (ACPH) emphasizes
the influence of gender and socioeconomic status on health including literacy,
education, employment, housing and income (Health Canada, 1999).
The influence of low literacy on health has far-reaching implications.
Persons with higher literacy skills may maintain better health because
of their ability to understand health information, practice preventive
health, and make appropriate choices among health care options. The direct
impacts of low literacy on health are:
- Incorrect use of medication,
- Not following health instructions, and
- Safety risks.
The indirect impacts include poverty, unhealthy lifestyle practices, stress, dangerous work environments, low self-esteem, and lack or inappropriate use of health services (Canadian Public Health Association, 1998).
Thank you to the National Literacy and Health Program for their assistance
in reviewing and editing this article.
Government of Canada (1999). Toward a Healthy Future. Second report on the health of Canadians. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada Publications.
The Canadian Public Health Association (1998). Easy Does It! Plain Language and Clear Verbal Communication Training Manual. Ottawa, ON: CPHA.
National Literacy and Health Program Web site
The Canadian Public Health Association's National Literacy and Health Program (NLHP) promotes awareness among health professionals of the links between literacy and health. The Program provides resources to help health professionals use clear verbal communication techniques and plain language health information in their practice. CAOT is one of 27 national health associations who partner with NLHP to raise awareness about literacy and health.
The following resources are available from:
The National Literacy and Health Program
Canadian Public Health Association Health Resources Centre
400-1565 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, ON K1Z 8R1
Tel. (613) 725-3769 Fax. (613) 725-9826
- Easy Does It! Plain Language and Clear Verbal Communication Package includes: Training Manual, CD-ROM version of PlainoWord (plain language box game), video Face-to-Face.
- Directory of Plain Language Health Information.
- Working with Low Literacy Seniors: Practical strategies for Health Providers.
- Creating Plain Language Forms for Seniors.
- What the HEALTH! A story-based literacy and health resource for youth.
Many of the resources are available in English and French.
To help raise awareness about this important issue see the Health Literacy
Toolbox 2000 web site: http://www.prenataled.com/healthlit/default.asp.
Nine Steps to Making Your Information Easier to Read
When preparing print and communication for the general public, material should be written at a Grade 4-6 level. To make your information easy to read the National Literacy and Health Program also recommends the following:
1. Use the active voice, not the passive.
Instead of: These hand activities are to be done
twice a day.
Use: Do these hand activities twice a day.
2. Use short words and short sentences.
Instead of: A child should use a slanted work-surface to encourage an upright posture; this will help to control their arms and hands for printing.
Use: A slanted work-surface helps the child sit straight. This will help control arms and hands for printing.
3. Use common words rather than technical
Instead of: Avoid static postures and change position frequently to reduce joint stress.
Use: Moving around now and then can help reduce pressure on your joints.
4. Use a positive tone whenever possible.
Instead of: Do not rush the person with Alzheimer's Dementia.
Use: Take your time when you are with a person with Alzheimer's Dementia.
5. Give people practical information rather than the philosophy of treatment.
Instead of: Occupational therapy enables people to resume meaningful daily occupations that they enjoyed prior to their illness or injury.
Use: Occupational therapy helps you do the activities that are important to you.
6. Write directly to your reader. Use the words you, I, we, us, and our to make your document more personal.
Instead of: Patients are asked to register with the occupational therapy office before entering the treatment area.
Use: Please register at the occupational therapy office before your appointment.
7. Use simple layout styles to help your reader.
- Point form, bold type and underlining can
highlight your most important points.
- Use italics or BLOCK LETTERS for emphasis, but not for long pieces of text, because it makes it more difficult for the reader to recognize the shape of words.
- Organize text so that there is white space around it and between the lines. Align text with the left margin, and don't hyphenate.
8. Use illustrations and graphics effectively.
They should appear close to the text in order to help the reader understand it.
9. Test what you write.
Ask someone else to read and comment on what you write. Test your draft
with people from your targe audience. This will tell you if your audience
wants to read your work, if they can read it, and if it's useful to them.
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September / October 2000 Table
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