Bad Health Linked To Poor Reading Skills
October 8, 2013

Bad Health Linked To Poor Reading Skills

[ Watch the Video: Reading For Your Health ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Scientists from the University of Stavanger say people with poor reading skills tend to be less healthy than those who can read easily.

Researchers used data from the international Adult Literacy and Life skills (ALL) survey to find that a relationship exists between self-perceived health and literacy. Self-perceived health can mean feeling pains, physical condition hampering everyday activities, fatigue, or emotional problems that affect social relationships.

“Some people don’t seem to obtain necessary health information because they’re not good readers,” says associate professor Kjersti Lundetræ at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre. “So adults with low literacy skills, as a group, are likely to be in worse physical shape than those who can read well."

“Other research shows that self-perceived health is closely related to actual well-being,” she said.

The team found that as an illiterate person ages, their perception of poor health increases. They said this perception of poor health was greatest among those aged 45 to 65 years old and the lowest in the group aged between 16 and 24 years old.

“When you’re young, your health will usually be good regardless of how well or poorly you look after yourself,” Lundetræ points out. “So it’s natural that the relationship between weak reading skills and the perception of poor health rises with age. That’s when you usually feel the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle or failing to look after yourself properly.”

People are increasingly starting to get their advice on nutrition, healthy diet and physical activity through searching the Internet. Those who may be poor at reading could be missing out on information that the Internet has to offer about health, whether through a news article or a get-fit blog.

The researchers say that how well people understand written details could be crucial for how good they are at looking after their own health. Health-related text is often complicated and contains a lot of technical terms, which makes it an extremely difficult task for those who aren't very well read.

“Materials in a form they aren’t used to, or containing unfamiliar words, are hard to understand. People with low literacy skills become more vulnerable in their encounter with such texts," Lundetræ said.

People with bad literacy could improve their reading skills and potentially lead themselves to better overall health. The latest study shows a need to take a close look at the way health-related information is being formulated and made available to people.

“Since a lot of those who are most in need of such knowledge are poor readers, these texts have to be easy to read,” Lundetræ said. “They must be written in a language which is not too technical or which uses too many words, and must communicate clearly and simply.”