“Health Lit Live” is our series of interviews with the movers and shakers on the health literacy scene. This week, our imaginary illustrated host Doug Doodleman sits down with Stacy Bailey, PhD, MPH and Gang Fang, PharmD, PhD from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They’re here to talk about the new Health Literacy Data Map they developed.
Doug: What an exciting day, readers — 2 guests at once! Double combo! We had to steal our intern’s stool so they could both sit down! So, Dr. Bailey and Dr. Fang, tell me about this Health Literacy Data Map you’ve been working on.
Dr. Bailey: I’d be happy to, Doug. It’s an online, searchable map of health literacy estimates for the entire United States.
Doug: I like the sound of it. But speaking as the beloved host of an award-winning health literacy focused talk show — I’ve noticed one glaring problem. Why can’t I find the Health Lit Live studio on this map?
Dr. Fang: Actually —
Doug: I mean, if you’re talking health literacy, that’s kind of like leaving Mount Rushmore off a —
Dr. Fang: Let me clarify that it’s not a map to the monuments of health literacy. It’s a tool for researchers and policymakers.
Dr. Bailey: Doug, we already know that low health literacy is associated with serious health disparities. By mapping estimated health literacy levels, we can identify communities that might be at risk and then target interventions there — like increasing access to health care services.
Doug: Oh, I get it! But how do you collect information about the health literacy of so many people? Health-seeking satellites? Self-driving car-tographers? Or did you just go door to door quizzing people, asking them what words like “pruritus” mean?
Dr. Bailey: No, we —
Doug: It means itching. Pruritus. I’m extremely health literate. I must show up super glowy on your map right now!
Dr. Fang: That’s not how it works, Doug.
Dr. Bailey: We didn’t assess people individually. It’s an estimate of an area’s health literacy at a census block group level, based on data from the U.S. Census and 5-year American Community Surveys (ACS) summary files.
Dr. Fang: We used variables like age, the language people speak at home, their income, education, and other factors in a model that predicts the health literacy of people living in census block groups. The map ranks areas using the well-known National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) categories as well as some others, like quartiles.
Doug: That is genius! So how do you use the map?
Dr. Bailey: Just go to the site, choose a state on the interactive map, and zoom in all the way to a specific area. Health literacy levels are color-coded, with high shown as green, low as red. You can compare specific areas within a state and nationally.
Dr. Fang: When you’re done, you can download the data you need for your research.
Doug: Well that’s pretty amazing! I guess I could say that you 2 are really putting health literacy on the map? Am I right?
Dr. Fang: I suppose you could say that, Doug.
Doug: Thanks to both of you! And readers — go check out the Health Literacy Data Map!
The bottom line: Use the Health Literacy Data Map to plan your next health literacy intervention or research study.
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