“Health literacy encompasses the knowledge, motivation and skills citizens have to access, understand and apply health information.” It is therefore the key to improving it. Poor skills “are in fact associated with less healthy choices, risky behaviors and a high number of hospital admissions, which significantly absorb the human and economic resources of the health service”. This was explained by the Minister of Health, Orazio Schillaci, speaking via video link at the Turin Book Fair at the meeting ‘Knowing is good: the role of health literacy in health promotion’.
The minister recalled how the spread of many diseases, starting with the chronic ones, “but also of tumors and transmissible pathologies, is strongly influenced by the cultural conditions of the population, since the cultural level is closely associated with the capacity, greater or less, to maintain one’s health through healthy lifestyles”. For example, “as regards diabetes, an emblematic case of disease particularly connected to incorrect lifestyles, the prevalence is equal to 16% among those interviewed with an elementary school leaving certificate or with no education; this value decreases as the level of education increases , reaching 2.1% among graduates”.
Schillaci then underlined the need for “homogeneous and internationally comparable data, with periodic monitoring of the level of health literacy in the population. For this reason, Italy has joined the European Network which monitors the level of health literacy in the population”. A first survey from 2018 “indicated, in 58% of the Italian sample, an ‘inadequate’ or ‘problematic’ level of health literacy, compared to an average of 46% among all 17 participating States. New data will be available with the second survey national level, conducted in the context of the European Joint Action on cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, which will start next autumn and will be coordinated at the European level precisely by Italy, through the Higher Institute of Health”.
The level of health literacy in the general population “helps to bridge the gap of health inequalities”, added Schillaci, specifying that “communication represents a strategic tool for promoting health and an investment in terms of system sustainability. We have learned this even from the pandemic, during which the activity of informing citizens was itself an active public health policy intervention.A communication that must always be authoritative, based on scientific evidence, easily understandable by citizens, also to neutralize threats that come from fake news”.
In this framework, he remarked, “the ministry is engaged in numerous communication campaigns which tend to improve citizens’ knowledge and empowerment”. And “wider-ranging interventions also contribute to the construction of a more sustainable health system, including projects financed with the Pnrr”.
For Schillaci, “great opportunities will come from the development of digital infrastructure, with the growth of home care and telemedicine”. As well as the “investments for the development of the electronic health record”, which “will facilitate access to the patient’s history by health professionals and will allow every citizen to access their data and a significant number of services. All this will lead to an increase of the skills of the population in terms of health culture”, concluded the minister.
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