Monday, May 23, 2016

Numeracy and health, one perspective

Rima E. Rudd, ScD, MSPH―senior lecturer on health literacy, education, and policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health―asserts (PDF) that numeracy deficits prevent many Americans from "skillfully" accessing and using "information for mundane and critical [health-related] decisions."

Rudd on why numbers and understanding them are important:

Numbers are a vital part of health discussions and play a key role in health decisions and actions. People must grapple with numbers on food and medicine labels, insurance forms, enrollment documents, weather charts, and allergy alerts. They are expected to understand a test result or vital-sign measure in the context of a normal range. They are challenged to undertake risk-benefit analyses for critical decisions.

Rudd concludes,

Many suggested strategies focus on doing the math or providing imbedded calculators; encourage providing numbers along with words; insist on giving meaning to numbers; and offer insights for clear displays. All emphasize the importance of eliminating unnecessary barriers to comprehension, use, and decision making.

The research can help the various literacy and numeracy stakeholders―health, literacy, and employment, to name just a few―work in a coordinated manner to improve numeracy skills overall and particularly related to essential life situations.   Working together would leverage the many opportunities already available to educate and engage DC residents.   Best case scenario, collaborative work would result in the ability to engage additional DC residents, family members, and friends who also need improved numeracy skills.

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