Health literacy has been defined by the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) as “the ability to access, understand, evaluate and communicate information as a way to promote, maintain and improve health in a variety of settings across the life-course.”
Equipping Canadians with health literacy skills is of the utmost importance. There is a “strong link between low health literacy and a number of negative health outcomes,” according to a report from the CPHA.
For example, chronic diseases — the leading causes of death in Canada — are often treated through self-management, “a process through which individuals actively cope with their chronic disease in the context of their daily lives.”
Dealing with “medical management, role management and emotional management” requires a degree of proficiency, according to the CPHA report.
Furthermore, research suggests that in locales with poor health literacy, health service costs are higher. In a 2009 analysis entitled A Vision for a Health Literate Canada, the CPHA determined that “an extra $8 billion a year [was] spent on health care as a result of low health literacy.”
Unfortunately, health literacy is not evenly distributed. Social, cultural, and geographic biases act as roadblocks to health literacy.
Indeed, Indigenous peoples, older Canadians, along with “recent immigrants, those with lower levels of education and with low English or French proficiency, and persons receiving social assistance are over-represented among those with low health literacy skills,” according to the 2009 analysis.
Empowering patients by providing them with accurate and thorough information about their health is a mandate of WHCC. Recently, we partnered with the Rebel Mamas—two authors, bloggers, and advocates for personal empowerment. We look forward to further shining a light on inequalities in women’s health care and raising awareness about the importance of health literacy.
From coast to coast, researchers associated with WHCC are working to level the playing field by addressing systematic gaps in health literacy. Here are just three researchers doing this vital work.
Emma Bedard is an MSc student at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta whose research looks “to better understand women’s decision-making processes when considering contraception methods.” Supervised by Dr. Nese Yuksel, and with Dr. Terri Schindel, Bedard has formed a partnership with Alberta Health Services’ Birth Control Centre to explore women’s experiences of accessing Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), which she hopes “will contribute to our understanding of women’s needs and provide insight into future practice changes for health-care providers — like pharmacists — advising about contraception.”
Emily Simmonds, MA, Ph.D. Candidate, is a critical scholar and a qualitative researcher at Women’s College Hospital’s Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health. Her research applies strength-based, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive methodologies as she acknowledges and centres the ongoing impacts of colonization and racism on Turtle Island. She prioritizes partnerships with community members and community-led organizations.
Dr. Ann Pederson is an Adjunct Professor at both UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences (SFU), and Director of Population and Global Health at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre. She is committed to “feminist, gender-transformative health promotion and researching interventions that can simultaneously address harmful gender norms while improving health.” Dr. Pederson has also done research on settlement and health for newcomer women; gender-based violence, including sexual assault and interpersonal violence in the perinatal period; and improving the experience of bereaved parents and clinicians navigating the experience of stillbirth.