Understanding health literacy in the Latino population



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University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines health literacy as the “degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Latinos are disproportionally susceptible to poorer health literacy. Adult Latinos are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases at a higher rate; adult Latinos are 15% more likely to be obese, 45% more likely to have cervical cancer and 65% more likely to have diabetes. Understanding the mechanisms that lead to health literacy within the Latino community could lead to better health outcomes, as well as income, housing, and employment. These include health literacy screening, improving communication with low-literacy patients, costs and outcomes of poor health literacy, and causal pathways of how poor health literacy influences health. This study utilized focus groups to learn more about the varying degrees of health literacy of individuals who participate in a cooking class at a social service agency in Chicago; specifically, how individuals understand how behaviors impact their overall health. The study participants were predominantly Latino Spanish only speakers from low income communities. A total of eight participants who have attended at least four cooking classes in the last six months were included in the focus group discussion. The focus group was conducted in Spanish and observations were recorded by members of the research team. The focus group was open coded for thematic purpose and an interpretive theory was used. Findings highlight the importance of social connections gained in these cooking classes and how they impact the participants’ health literacy. By the agency hosting these classes, individuals can create social networks that reinforce healthy habits within the home. It is important for social workers to understand the dynamics that health literacy classes or health literacy education has on their clients’ health outcomes.



health literacy, Latinos, qualitative study, Health literacy, Latinos, Qualitative study