Do You Understand Your Health? 

We live in a world inundated with information and opinions. However, accessing information does not equate to understanding. This is especially true regarding health. Approximately 9 out of 10 Americans do not understand their health situation or how to manage their health properly. Pastors and ministry leaders are not excluded from these numbers.  Additionally, multiple studies have demonstrated the strong influence pastors can have on their congregation both as a role model and as a significant support person. The following five points have been taken from the National Library of Medicine, “Health Literacy.”

“. . .I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (3 John 1:2)

  1. Health Literacy. “Healthy People 2030” defines health literacy as an individual’s “ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others” (“Health Literacy in Healthy People 2030,” para. 3). Many struggle with knowing how to access health care services, understanding forms, and communicating with healthcare providers. Skills such as reading medication labels, understanding directions, calculating doses, and using basic medical equipment (e.g. blood pressure cuff ) are required. Reading level, English proficiency, ability to use technology, and interpreting visual information also impact understanding. Plus, individuals must determine if a source is credible. Have any of these things been an issue for you or a loved one? Are you confident of your ability to care for yourself or others in partnership with health care workers?
  2.  Health Literacy Risk Factors. Health literacy is complex. Even the most educated can find themselves having difficulty navigating health systems, making informed decisions, and applying instructions. However, the most at-risk individuals are adults over age 65, ethnic or immigrant populations, and low-income groups. While empowerment through knowledge is helpful, social factors such as education, occupation, housing, and access to care also impact an individual’s overall success.  Are you or the population you serve vulnerable to low health literacy? How do you think health literacy impacts overall health?
  3. The Cost of Not Understanding. It is estimated that between $100-230 billion dollars annually are related to low health literacy. Populations with poor health literacy have more difficulty managing chronic disease and are more likely to end up in the emergency room. They are also less likely to engage in preventative care. When something is wrong, they often wait to seek care until the problem is advanced to a point that may require hospitalization and are more likely to experience complications or death. The FDA reports medication errors occurring at home are also increasing, especially with blood pressure, heart, pain relievers, and diabetes medication. What is one area of health management for you or a loved one that you could improve in? How do you think you can improve in this area?
  4. Becoming informed. Numerous chronic diseases occur silently. Participating in preventative care (e.g. annual doctors’ appointment, vaccinations, health screenings) helps maintain good overall health through early identification and treatment. If you do not understand healthcare workers, politely stop them and ask them to clarify. Come to your appointments with questions. Take notes or bring someone with you to take notes so you have information to review later. Be sure to get a contact number so that when you get home you know who to call if something is unclear. Read the information that is given to you or attached to prescriptions. Request help from the provider’s office with referrals. Can you apply at least one of these suggestions in the near future?
  5. Determining a credible and quality source. Sources like local pharmacies, health departments, or libraries are local sources often overlooked that can provide information about medications, side effects, disease processes, and prevention. Online sources and social media should be thoroughly checked for credibility. UCSF Health reminds health consumers to ensure that the author or group releasing the information has the credentials to do so. Online sources ending in .edu, .org, or .gov are usually more credible than .com. The published date is also important because healthcare rapidly changes. If you have questions, please ask a healthcare provider for clarification. Do you take time to check the credibility of health information sources? How can you ensure the information you are reading is credible?

To learn more about health literacy and becoming informed, see the following resources:

Brooks, A. (2019). Health Literacy: What is it and Why is it Important? Rasmussen University. 

German, D., Zarick, R. Miller, A., & Schmidt, M. (2020). Why Health Literacy Matters – Especially During COVID-19. University of Central Florida.

Hayes, K. (2017). Medication Errors More than Double. AARP.

University of California San Francisco (2021) Patient education: Evaluating Health Information. USCF Health.

National Library of Medicine (n.d.). Health Literacy.

Office of Disease Prevention and Healthy Promotion (2020). “Health Literacy in Healthy People. Found in Healthy People 2030


Physical contributor: Anna Mangimela, MSN, RN, MSRN-BC, Assistant Professor School of Nursing Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle