Health Literate Sponsored Article

Understanding Health Literacy & Its Impact on Australia’s Wellbeing

Imagine standing at a crossroads with signs pointing in multiple directions – each signpost a snippet of health information or advice. Health literacy is your compass; it’s your ability to read those signs, make sense of the directions and choose the path that leads to optimal wellbeing.

“Health literacy is the ability to obtain, understand, evaluate and use health information and services to make informed health decisions,” explains Louise Rubic, Senior Leaning Facilitator in Health and Clinical Nutrition at Torrens University Australia. It’s about understanding your doctor’s advice, interpreting the nutritional content on food labels and knowing how to naviagte the healthcare system to access the services you need.

Why does this matter? Because it is not just about individual wellbeing; it’s the lifeblood of a healthier community and a more efficient healthcare system. With strong health literacy, Australians can better manage chronic conditions, improve communication with healthcare providers and make smart choices that lead to healthier lives.

The crucial importance of health literacy

Louise explains that without a universal manual for the health needs of Australians, health literacy simplifies the process of identifying and understanding information tailored to individual health needs. This ability is directly linked to improved health outcomes.

“With higher health literacy, individuals are better equipped to understand their health condition and treatments available. This understanding can lead to better management of chronic diseases and more effective use of treatments,” she says.

Moreover, understanding it  is empowering. “It helps to empower individuals to take control of their health and wellbeing by providing the confidence and knowledge to make informed health decisions,” says Louise.

In conversations with healthcare professionals, Louise notes health literacy can be transformative. “It enables improved communication with health professionals where meaningful questions can be asked and health advice is more easily understood.”

The impact of health literacy on public health

Beyond the individual benefits, it can lighten the load on our healthcare system and strengthen community health. Louise points out that individuals with greater health literacy are more inclined to adopt preventative health measures, such as regular screenings.

“This proactive approach can help prevent or manage potential health issues, which ultimately reduces healthcare costs for the individual, their community and the health system,” she explains. Such literacy ensures that public health messages are not just heard but adhered to, from disease prevention to dietary intake.

Addressing health literacy challenges

Despite its critical importance, achieving adequate health literacy is an uphill battle. With an estimated 60 per cent of Australian adults lacking in this area, the challenge is particularly stark for those grappling with chronic diseases that demand a certain level of literacy for effective management and response to exacerbations.

But responsibility doesn’t rest with individuals alone. As Louise highlights, information from healthcare systems and practitioners must be readily available and easily understood. This need for accessibility is why it was spotlighted in the Australian Government’s National Preventative Health Strategy of 2021, which outlines key health goals to achieve by 2030.

“Health literacy is weaved throughout the strategy, with a focus on seven health goals critical to positive, preventative health: good nutrition, increased physical activity, reduction in smoking, engagement in immunisation and cancer screening programs, support for mental health and reduction in alcohol and other drug use,” Louise explains.

The urgency to improve Australia’s health literacy becomes even more apparent when you consider the nation’s overall health. Around 80 per cent of Australian adults live with at least one long-term health condition, with chronic health issues accounting for almost half of these. “Respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and mental and behavioural conditions including dementia are among the leading health issues experienced by Australians,” Louise notes.

The vital role of nutritionists

While a vast collective effort is required to boost health literacy in Australia and meet the National Preventative Health Strategy’s objectives, nutritionists play an instrumental role, according to Louise. Their expertise is key in simplifying complex nutritional information into clear, practical advice for individuals and entire communities. “This is vital to slow down and reverse the trend of 27,000 Australians dying from preventable diseases related to unhealthy diets,” says Louise, pointing to the transformative impact nutritionists have on public health.

Student nutritionists are also at the forefront of this mission. “Student clinical nutritionists are taught how to collaborate with individuals on their health goals, building their health literacy and thereby empowering people to make the most appropriate choices for their own health. It’s like building your own instruction manual for working toward and maintaining a healthy life.”

WellBeing Team

WellBeing Team

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