Reading is good for your health

October 8, 2013 by Trond Egil Toft
Reading is good for your health
Written health-related information is often complex. Texts usually contain many difficult words and are frequently written in a style which is foreign to poor readers. Credit: Asbjørn Jensen

People with poor reading skills are likely to be less healthy than those who read easily, according to recent research. Literacy skills are important for keeping in good shape.

"Some people don't seem to obtain necessary information because they're not good readers," says associate professor Kjersti Lundetræ at the University of Stavanger's Reading Centre.

Together with fellow associate professor Egil Gabrielsen at the Reading Centre and general practitioner Reidar Stokke, she has written an article on this subject entitled Health in Every Word.

This concludes that a relationship exists between self-perceived health and literacy, and draws on data from the international adult literacy and life skills survey (ALL).

Pains

Self-perceived health can mean feeling pains, physical condition hampering everyday activities, fatigue, or emotional problems which affect social relationships.

"Other research shows that self-perceived health is closely related to actual well-being," explains Lundetræ. "So adults with low literacy skills, as a group, are likely to be in worse physical shape than those who can read well."

A perception of increases among weak readers with age. It is greatest among those aged 45-65 and lowest in the youngest group, aged 16-24.

"When you're young, your health will usually be good regardless of how well or poorly you look after yourself," Lundetræ points out.

"So it's natural that the relationship between weak reading skills and the perception of poor health rises with age. That's when you usually feel the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle or failing to look after yourself properly."

Compared with gender, age, education and income, literacy is the variable which has the strongest correlation with self-perceived health.

But this applies only to physical condition. The results show no similar correlation between literacy skills and mental health.

Communicated

"Advice on nutrition, healthy diet and physical activity is increasingly communicated through newspaper and magazine articles and on the internet," Lundetræ explains.

"We receive a great deal of information by reading. It's conceivable that certain people miss out on important health advice because they read poorly and seldom."

A brief visit to the family doctor is often supplemented with printed advice in the form of a brochure or a leaflet supplied with medicine.

How well people understand such written details could be crucial for how good they are at looking after their own health, Lundetræ observes. Health-related text is often complicated. It can contain a lot of technical terms, and is frequently badly written. That makes it difficult to grasp for .

"Materials in a form they aren't used to, or containing unfamiliar words, are hard to understand. People with low become more vulnerable in their encounter with such texts."

Improvement

A general improvement in might accordingly give more people better health and, in the longer terms, have a beneficial effect on the cost of health services.

In addition, the adult literacy survey confirms the need to take a close look at the way health-related information is formulated.

"Since a lot of those who are most in need of such knowledge are poor readers, these texts have to be easy to read," Lundetræ emphasises.

"They must be written in a language which is not too technical or which uses too many words, and must communicate clearly and simply."

Explore further: Poor literacy skills linked to increased mortality risk among older people

Related Stories

Poor literacy skills linked to increased mortality risk among older people

March 15, 2012
One in three older people who have difficulty reading and understanding basic health related information may be at increased risk of death, concludes a study published in the British Medical Journal today.

Pharmacy research can help raise health literacy standards, say experts

September 25, 2013
Limited health literacy can lead to difficulties in patients' self-care activities such as taking prescribed medications. Since a considerable amount of health information changes hands in the pharmacy setting, research by ...

Parental misconceptions about antibiotics linked to poor health literacy levels in Latino population

February 4, 2013
In the first study of its kind, researchers at the Columbia University School of Nursing have established that poor health literacy among Latino parents is associated with a poor understanding of the proper use antibiotics, ...

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.