The state of Tennessee ranks 42th in the country for overall health status. Our State ranking has improved over previous years; however, we are still near the bottom. Why? There are many reasons for our state’s poor health such as culture, poor health access, poverty, limited education, lack of health insurance and unhealthy lifestyles. But a prevailing reason is low health literacy. Health literacy is the ability of individuals to obtain, interpret and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate and cost effective decisions that enhance health and health care.
The Surgeon General has identified health literacy as the “currency for staying healthy.” The American Medical Association has called health literacy a hidden health problem of the health care system. The Institute of Medicine has identified health literacy as a national health priority. The Council of State Governments recognizes “the major obstacle to achieving a more informed and active health care consumer is the lack of basic health literacy.” Low health literacy affects health care by increasing costs, compromising health care quality and limiting health care access.
The challenge to our state is how to move Tennessee health statistics from the bottom to the top. As the statewide outreach unit of the University of Tennessee, Extension’s Community Health Education Program strategy is to address Tennessee’s low health literacy and rising health care costs through community-based health education. The goal is to improve health literacy by teaching Tennesseans to be smart health care consumers who:
- Practice health protecting behaviors
- Can access scientifically accurate and culturally appropriate health information
- Take advantage of preventive care
- Use medical services appropriately and cost effectively
One of the greatest strengths of this community health education program is its capacity to reach large numbers of people in communities across the state with research-based information and evidence-based community programs. This is done through our statewide community education network of UT Extension educators working in UT Extension offices in all 95 counties. These community educators, trained by the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences faculty with expertise in community health education, environmental health, nutrition and pharmacy, implement the program with a vast network of public and private partnerships in communities across the state.
Learn more about why TN ranks 42th in health: