Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

As the Ship Sails Forth

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

As the Ship Sails Forth

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This concluding article comments on what we learned from the conference, what we still need to know, and what we need to do now. It describes what participants said about the impact of the conference and the follow-up steps that have been taken so far. In terms of what we learned, there was agreement on the importance of culture in understanding literacy and health literacy; the importance of context; the integral relationship between literacy and health literacy and the concept of "empowerment;" the value of efforts to improve health through literacy and health literacy; and the need for collaboration. We need more and better information on how our various efforts are working; the cost of low literacy; the links between health, education, and lifelong learning; the needs and strengths of Aboriginal people, and the perspectives of Francophone and ethnocultural groups. Specific topics worthy of pursuit are suggested. They are followed by a list of recommendations from the conference related to focussing on language and culture, and to building best practices, knowledge, and healthy public policy. The paper presents some findings from the conference evaluation, which suggests that the conference met its goals. It concludes by reporting on actions that have been taken to implement the conference recommendations, including the establishment of a Health Literacy Expert Committee and the submission of several funding proposals.

MeSH terms: Literacy; health; health literacy; conference proceedings

As this volume of the captain's log omes to a close and the good ship "Literacy and Health" sails forth on the next phase of its journey, the casual observer may have many questions: Who is on board? What provisions are in the hold? Where is the ship going? Will it get there? What is its mission and will it be achieved? Some of the answers to these questions are in the pages of this journal supplement. Others lie elsewhere or will only be answered in time.

This concluding article identifies some of the common conclusions in the previous articles. It also presents the conference recommendations. Specifically, we comment on what we learned from the conference, what we still need to know, and what we need to do now. We also describe what participants said about the impact of the conference and the follow-up steps that have been taken so far.

What did we learn?

It is clear from the articles in this supplement that we learned a great deal both in the years since the first national conference on literacy and health and from the second national conference itself. Although each article in this supplement addresses the question of what we have learned though the lens of a particular theme or perspective, there is much commonality in the conclusions. For example, the importance of culture in understanding literacy and health literacy comes through in the three articles that focus on language and culture and also in the other articles on best practices, building knowledge, and public policies. It is clear that we have to do much more than we did in the past to integrate different cultural perspectives into our understanding of literacy and health literacy, and into our research, programs, and policies in the field of literacy and health. The US Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report on health literacy,' which contains a long article on the relationships among culture, society, literacy, and health, supports this conclusion. We recommend that everyone in the field read this important report.

Another common conclusion is the importance of context in understanding literacy and health literacy. Again, the IOM report made this clear in its conceptual framework. It points out that health literacy is not just a property of individuals, but is also a consequence of individuals interacting in different health contexts whether they be in a doctor's office, a community, or at home. This means that responsibility for literacy and health literacy goes beyond individuals to the systems they interact with. …

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