According to a new study by the University of Hawaii Office of Public Health Studies, about 35.99% residents in some neighborhoods in Hawaii have low health literacy levels. As a result, the residents have challenges understanding basic health information and its importance. In other communities in Hawaii, only 5.3% of residents have low health literacy. The study, which was led by Dr. Tetine Sentell, shows that these percentages affect personal health status. On average, residents in areas with low health literacy levels experience worse health than residents in areas where a small number of residents report low health literacy levels.The study was conducted in 37 communities in Hawaii and had 11,779 respondents. According to the study, each percentage increase in average low health literacy within a neighborhood was correlated with about 2% increase in poor personal health status of individuals in that particular community. The results were similar for all individuals in that community despite their age, gender, health literacy or access to health insurance. According to the lead researcher Dr. Sentell, health literacy does not only affect an individual, but also the community in which the individual lives. Earlier studies had shown that health literacy mostly affected individuals and had insignificant effects on the community in which the individual resides.
The study recommends that all health care providers such as community health centers, public health facilities and primary care providers should consider and deal with health literacy issues at both individual and community levels. The results of the study show that the community context in Hawaii is a very significant aspect in health-related issues. The community can have numerous health benefits if health literacy levels increase across a large number of individuals or residents in that community. According to Dr. Sentell, the Affordable Care Act supports efforts of improving health of individuals and communities. The study also notes that there is a high likelihood that community and individual health will improve with the increasing funding and efforts by major health stakeholders. However, Dr. Sentell opines that it is necessary for health care stakeholders to raise awareness in the community since most people in the affected communities do not realize that low health literacy is a problem. She indicated that addressing health literacy issues requires partnerships between researchers, health providers, the government and the community.
The study was a product of an interdisciplinary partnership between the Department of Public Health Sciences at University of Hawaii at Manoa, Dr. Wei Zhang of the Department of Sociology and Kay Baker of Hawaii’s Department of Health. The Journal of General Internal Medicine has praised the researchers for their efforts to enhance improved health care, education and research in public health.
Dr. Tetine Lynn Sentell, the mastermind behind the study, is a renowned researcher and assistant professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa. She holds a PhD in Health Services and Policy Analysis and MA in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. Other than conducting research on health issues, she has published several books and articles.