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Plain & Simple: A health literacy project for Iowa

What is the Plain & Simple project?

We help public health workers and partners get their message across. Our focus is on using plain language when talking or writing about health. For example, instead of saying, "Reduce your sodium intake to manage your hypertension," we recommend "Cut down on salt. It will lower your blood pressure." We also aim to increase awareness about the role of health literacy in personal and community health.

What is health literacy?

According to Healthy People 2010 and the Institute of Medicine, health literacy is "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions." Health literacy means more than being able to read health information. It is also about knowing what the information means and how to use it. A high level of education does not always equal a high level of health literacy.

Why use plain language?

As public health workers and partners, it is challenging to help people get the resources they need to make good health decisions. We're more successful when we use plain language to talk about health information and services. This creates and promotes health literacy.

Why should you care about health literacy?

  • Risk factor: Low health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person's health than age, income, employment status, education level, or race. (American Medical Association)
  • Cost: Low health literacy costs the U.S. between $106 billion to $238 billion each year. This represents between 7% and 17% percent of all personal health care expenditures. (George Washington University Medical Center School of Public Health and Health Services)
  • Common problem: In the U.S. the majority of adults (53%) have only "intermediate" health literacy skills. About 22% have "basic" and 14% have "below basic" health literacy skills. (National Assessment of Adult Literacy)