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Health Literacy Public Health Forums:
Partners for Action

This guide provides suggestions and materials for the development and implementation of a Health Literacy Forum to be coordinated by a local, county, or state Department of Public Health.

Health Literacy Forums, already implemented in several cities and states, have increased awareness about literacy skills of U.S. adults and health implications. The forums have helped staff members of departments of public health forge statewide, county- or city-wide partnerships to develop action plans that improve health messages, health materials, programs and services, as well as outreach.

Increasingly, health literacy is garnering attention through public forums, presentations at professional meetings, and publications. Healthy People 2010 as well as the Institute of Medicine Health Literacy Committee report (Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion, April, 2004) both indicate that professionals must plan and design programs, services, messages, and materials with attention to literacy. We can also improve our data gathering and research agenda if we include literacy considerations in the design of our forms and survey instruments. Thus we will be able to:

For some of us, the findings from the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) provided a wake up call. However, many public health staff members are busy enough meeting the demands of their work and keeping up with readings in their own field, let alone with readings from other fields such as education. As a result, many public health practitioners are still not aware of the following research findings:

The Health Literacy Forum described in this guide offers a strong first step for action. This how-to guide was piloted in three states: Massachusetts , Oregon , and Vermont . Contributors to the guide include public health department staff, adult educators, and librarians. The guide was peer reviewed and further revised based on comments and suggestions.

We encourage you to use this guide with the hope that you will consider “putting on” a Health Literacy Forum. The guide takes you through a planning and implementation process and contains all needed materials for a forum, including a sample invitation letter, evaluation forms, as well as DVD/video and PowerPoint slide show, either of which can be used for a presentation and discussion trigger. In addition, the guide includes options for follow-up workshops and an outline and materials for one. Please feel free to use the materials as is or modify as needed.

Rima E. Rudd and Emily K. Zobel
Health Literacy Studies
Harvard School of Public Health
The National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL)

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL