Critical Reading in Health Literacy

By Kerry Renwick.

Published by The International Journal of Literacies

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

There is a growing body of literature (Zarcadoolas et al 2005; Kickbusch 2009; Nutbeam, D. 2009) that considers ‘health literacy’ as an essential aspect of both prevention and treatment of illness and disease. Health literacy is predominately presented as being about functional and operational literacy, that is to read, understand and act. The challenge in this is that much of what is conveyed requires understandings of biology and chemistry as well as medical and scientific terminology. Additionally where health illiteracy is identified it is perceived from a deficiency paradigm and therefore a ‘failure’ within the individual rather than consider the creation of ill health through disempowerment and disadvantage that arises out of age, gender, class and indigenity.

While health promotion requires knowledge and functionality, critical health literacy needs to include individual and community engagement in health. Luke and Freebody (1999) have contended that there is a need to view literacy as a social construction and because of emerging and changing social and cultural conditions, it is necessary to engage in continual critique and reformulation of new possibilities for literate practice. Health is also presented as a social concept within the context of the Ottawa Charter (1986) and thus consideration as health literacy as social construct is required.

This paper therefore argues that any effort to consider and develop health literacy also requires critique and reformulation for health promotion practice. Using Luke and Freebody’s (1990) four resources model of reading this paper will explore ways to consider health literacy as critical action. The model is a way for educators and students to manage the plethora of health and wellbeing data while creating meaningful connections and lifelong competencies.

Keywords: Health Literacy, Health Promotion, Health Education, Health Promoting Schools

The International Journal of Literacies, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp.99-107. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 413.099KB).

Dr. Kerry Renwick

Lecturer - Health Education, School of Education, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia

Kerry has extensive experience working in both school and community based health education and vocational education. Kerry is a past president of the Health Education Association of Victoria with experience working in public health nutrition. Her Ph.D., topic was a critical analysis of health promoting schools in Australia.