The Impact of Health Literacy on Health Behaviors of Waco Residents
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Literacy, especially health literacy, is lacking in the U.S. adult population, especially among people of low socioeconomic status. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult literacy, 36% of adults have below average competence in interpreting and acting upon health information. Low health literacy has been linked to poor patient outcomes and higher rates of negative health behaviors, but results of studies examining the association of health literacy with smoking behavior and alcohol consumption have been mixed. Furthermore, few, if any, studies have investigated the relationship of health literacy with health anxiety. In this study, we measured health literacy among adults at the Waco Family Health Center using the Newest Vital Sign tool. Smoking and alcohol use behaviors were gathered from EPIC medical records as reported by patients to their primary care physician. Health anxiety was tested using a shortened Whiteley Index. The data were then analyzed for correlations between health literacy and each variable separately, controlling for demographic factors such as race and socioeconomic status. Results indicate that smoking is associated with lower health literacy, but no relationship was found between health literacy and alcohol consumption. There was no statistically significant relationship between health literacy and health anxiety; however, trends in the data indicate that lower health literacy may be associated with higher health anxiety. The relationship between health literacy and risky health behavior like smoking highlights the importance of adequate health literacy education and indicates a potential benefit of screening for health literacy in a primary care setting.
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