Sixty percent of Australians don’t understand health information

Family photo of Jayden, Anthony, Isaiah, Simone Pearson - they benefited from a health literacy project
A Western Sydney family has taken advantage of easy-to-understand health information, thanks to effective health literacy. Pictured: Jayden, Anthony, Isaiah and Simone Pearson.

Health literacy is a hot topic in healthcare and for good reason.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, sixty percent of Australians don’t have adequate health literacy and with half the population in western Sydney speaking a language other than English, this makes interpreting health information difficult.

Health literacy is a person’s ability to understand, interpret and act on health information provided to them.

The good news is, health literacy can be improved and that’s exactly what the Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) population health team discovered during a recent project.

WSLHD health promotion operations manager Michelle Nolan led an initiative to improve the way her staff communicate with the community, and her learnings will be shared at an upcoming seminar.

“Information we provide is so much more than just text on a page,” Michelle said.

“The community need to be able to understand the information and know how to act on it.

“Health information should be available to everybody.”

Adapting existing NSW Health childhood obesity prevention program fact sheets, Michelle and her team recently turned the content into colourful visual resources, making them easier to understand and ensured they met the needs of our western Sydney community.

Michelle said that the new resources were pulled together in consultation with local families including those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, teachers and child care services.

“We wanted to provide families the opportunity to know what is recommended regarding healthy eating, healthy lunchboxes, screen time and physical activity,” Michelle said.

“But we also wanted to provide easy and practical tips on how to put these recommendations into practice in their everyday lives.

“Busy parents need to be able to quickly and easily gain the information they need.

“We know that if we are serious about changing behaviour, we need to provide practical information in a way families would engage with, read, understand and act on.”

Simone Pearson and her family from Schofields are living proof of this. With two boys aged 12 and two, Simone accessed the fact sheets through the Go4Fun healthy lifestyle program and has used them to make changes at home.

“The resources also share handy tips on how to reduce screen time, eat better choices and get more active as a family,” Simone said.

“I found these fact sheets really beneficial. We got some snack ideas from the healthy snacks resource and became more aware of serving sizes,” said Simone.

The upcoming ‘producing easy-to-read patient information’ seminar for staff is an initiative of the WSLHD Health Literacy Hub, and will provide staff with practical tips on how to develop easy-to-read information for patients and consumers.

The techniques used in the health promotion project have wide application to all written and visual forms of communication with members of the public, including written patient information.

Seminar details:

When: Tuesday July 2, 2019

Time: 2pm-3pm

Where: Lecture Theatre 1, WECC, level 2, Westmead Hospital

Register: Please click here