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June 2024
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Health Smarts, Strong Hearts: Study Shows Health Literacy Prolongs Life

Health Literacy Knowledge is a powerful thing. The exhibition of that knowledge can get teens into prestigious universities; land job hunters dream jobs and make game show contestants oodles of money. In short, knowledge is the guide to the all-American dream.   

There’s a specific kind of knowledge that can do much more than that—it can literally save your life. No, it’s not knowing how to survive a 50 story fall, wrestle an alligator or avoid a shark attack (though such knowledge, I imagine, would save your life). It’s much simpler: health knowledge.

According to a study recently published in Archives of Internal Medicine, people who are moderately to highly health literate live longer than those who are health illiterate.
Researchers came to this conclusion after conducting interviews, and poring over archived demographic information on nearly 3300 people over the age of 64.  These 3300 patients were then given a test to determine their health literacy.  The questions weren’t dissimilar from your standard SAT test, as they included several math questions to solve and reading exercises to comprehend.  All of the questions were health-related.  Out of 100 points, the 3300 seniors were given grades of “inadequate health literacy” if they scored below a 55; “adequate health literacy” for scores between 56 and 66; and “adequate health literacy” if they scored a 67 and above. 

Nearly six years later, researchers searched the National Death Index to see if any of the participating patients had died in the intervening years.  The correlation they found was truly illuminating.  Approximately one fourth of the patients had died, but more interestingly, 39 percent of the decedents had received scores of “poor health literacy” in their testing results—more than double the rate of those who had died but scored well in their testing.

Frank Mangano’s commentary:

Could the results be a coincidence?  I suppose anything is possible, but the fact that almost half of the health “illiterate” folks died while nary a fifth of the health literate died seems too coincidental to be due to chance.

Becoming health literate is a worthy endeavor.  Researchers believe that those who died likely could have prolonged their lives had they the knowledge of how best to manage various illnesses.  One of the best things about health literacy, though, is that it can help prevent illnesses from ever rearing its ugly head.  It won’t make you impenetrable to disease, but it will arm you with the sword of stamina and the “sinews of better living” to borrow a phrase from the late labor leader Samuel Pollock.

In short, if you hear that blueberries are good for you, find out why they’re good for you.  If you hear that omega 3s promote a healthy heart, find out how much is enough.  Knowledge is power, but it’s also a life saver!

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