Journal Article

Teaching critical health literacy in the US as a means to action on the social determinants of health

Elizabeth Mogford, Linn Gould and Andra DeVoght

in Health Promotion International

Volume 26, issue 1, pages 4-13
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0957-4824
Published online August 2010 | e-ISSN: 1460-2245 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/heapro/daq049
Teaching critical health literacy in the US as a means to action on the social determinants of health

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In spite of improvements in global health over the 20th century, health inequities are increasing. Mounting evidence suggests that reducing health inequities requires taking action on the social determinants of health (SDOH), which include income, education, employment, political empowerment and other factors. This paper introduces an alternative health education curriculum, developed by the US-based non-profit organization Just Health Action, which teaches critical health literacy as a step towards empowering people to achieve health equity. Critical health literacy is defined as an individual's understanding of the SDOH combined with the skills to take action at both the individual and the community level. Prior to describing our curricular framework, we connect the recommendations of the World Health Organization Commission on the SDOH with the objectives of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion by arguing that achieving them is reliant on critical health literacy. Then we describe our four-part curricular framework for teaching critical health literacy. Part 1, Knowledge, focuses on teaching the SDOH and the paradigm of health as a human right. Part 2, Compass, refers to activities that help students find their own direction as a social change agent. Part 3, Skills, refers to teaching specific advocacy tools and strategies. Part 4, Action, refers to the development and implementation of an action intended to increase health equity by addressing the SDOH. We describe activities that we use to motivate, engage and empower students to take action on the SDOH and provide examples of advocacy skills students have learned and actions they have implemented.

Keywords: social determinants of health; health equity; advocacy; health education

Journal Article.  5418 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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