Health Communication ,

Putting the Pieces Together

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Making decisions for our health can feel like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle – time-consuming or perhaps frustrating – and that’s if you have all the pieces.

When it comes to health decisions, we first have to find trustworthy resources, then we need to be able to interpret and apply that information to make what is hopefully the best decision. This process is called Health Literacy, and it is of national concern. How big of a concern? 9 out of 10 people, to no fault of our own, do not have the skills needed to find or interpret health information.9-out-of-10-health-literacy

What is being done about this?

The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy recognizes it will take a mass effort of organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, and individuals to change how our nation communicates health information. The plan highlights 7 goals and accompanying strategies.

Additionally, since 2010, federal law requires federal agencies to provide training for staff and use plain language when communicating with the public. Plain language means the audience is able to understand something the first time they read or hear it.

Click here for a before-and-after comparison. Which version do you think is easier to understand?

What can you do?

  • Find training in health literacy, plain language, and culture and communication
  • Work with people who specialize in communicating with plain language
  • Make use of existing tools to evaluate and/or plan materials

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a Clear Communication Index that is a short, evidence-based form to use when developing or evaluating a communication product. I look forward to giving this a try


Let’s help our fellow citizens put all the pieces of their health puzzle together.


References and Resources:

Boston University. Health Literacy Tool Shed.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC Clear Communication Index.

Center for Plain Language.

National Network of Libraries of Medicine. Health Literacy.

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.

  • shaunalayres

    Even as a public health student, I find it hard to filter good and bad health information. The newest trends in popular health are always so appealing, but are either false or unsustainable–I'm think mostly about fad diets, but it does apply to other health behaviors too. It's so important to be a not just health literate, but also a smart health information consumer as well. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • ariagray

    Thanks for this post Courtney! Not only is this good information to keep in mind as health consumers, but also as public health practitioners. It's so important to be critical consumers of the information out there, especially when headlines are misleading or when debunked health trends stick around for a long time. It is also important in our own work to make sure that our work can be understood by a general audience so that it can reach the people it was intended to reach.