Achieving health literacy

Kailey Bergstedt and Alexa Muñoz

Since the COVID–19 pandemic began, many have focused on staying healthy and becoming more health literate. Because so little was known about the virus at first, sources popped up daily with new information and varying levels of accuracy. A helpful resource for those seeking credible information is Dallas’ Cooper Institute, which provides information about preventive health.

The Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as the ability to find information and services needed to make well-informed health decisions.

Amanda English, associate director for community engagement at the Institute for Health Disparities at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, said several resources are available to learn more about being health literate.

“Academically approved websites are a good place to start and even local public libraries can provide guidance in navigating the plethora of resources,” she said.

The components of health literacy include personal, organizational and digital health literacy. Personal health literacy refers to the ability to find information to help with health decisions.

Organizational health literacy refers to access to organizations that help people make health decisions. “Individuals who work in health care know to explain things in ways that people will understand,” English said. “We do this not just in verbal but also written communication so everything is very cut and dried and people can clearly understand what is happening and what is being asked of them.”


Finally, digital health literacy refers to people’s ability to find useful information from electronic sources. This aspect of healthy literacy grew exponentially during the pandemic when nearly everything was virtual and information was mainly found and communicated digitally.

While Americans have sought guidance on preventive measures and becoming more health care literate, certain communities face difficulties in accessing information.

“Hispanic, African American, Native American and low income communities frequently have a higher rate of health disparities and low health outcomes,” English said.

These groups face barriers related to transportation, education and their environment. Those living in communities far from a doctor’s office, especially lower income people who lack transportation, often struggle accessing health care. Similarly, communities with limited access to quality education lack health literacy. Although groups and organizations work to overcome health care disparities, creating change takes time and dedication.

“It takes a community,” English said. “It takes people in the community asking the right questions and building partnerships with other communities to create solutions together.”

Solid sources, access important to acquiring information 5w The Cooper Institute, a nonprofit
organization, is dedicated to promoting life-long health and wellness through three key areas — research, education and advocacy.

The research institute has proven the link between exercise and preventing health problems. “No medicine or supplement can quite replicate a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, the research institute’s founder and current Chairman Emeritus. Dr. Cooper founded The Cooper Institute and Cooper Clinic in 1970 and still sees patients daily as a preventive medicine physician at Cooper Clinic.

Cooper Aerobics challenges people to “Get Cooperized™” by adopting a healthy living mindset to live better both sooner and later.

“The most important piece of advice I would give to high school students looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle is that your health is your responsibility,” Cooper said. “You need to take the initiative to follow these steps.”

Cooper particularly emphasized the benefits of taking vitamin D supplements.

“Low vitamin D levels can be linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and even some cancers,” Cooper said. “Vitamin D could also be beneficial in preventing future pandemics.”

Senior Meera Malhotra said the institute encourages its employees to live the lifestyle it recommends.
“When I worked at The Cooper Clinic this past summer, they encouraged me to go outside or use my gym pass to work out during my breaks,” Malhotra said. “I really learned the importance of physical care and how to find credible healthcare sources.”

In keeping with the goal of regular and comprehensive physical exams, Cooper Clinic offers a six-part preventive exam. The exam includes a medical exam and counseling with your physician, head-to-toe skin cancer screening, cardiovascular screening via a treadmill stress test, CT scan, laboratory work and analysis with same-day results and nutrition coaching.

The cardiovascular screening includes a treadmill stress test to evaluate how well the coronary arteries function and provide blood flow to the heart. “We pioneered the treadmill stress test in Dallas and have performed more than 300,000 of them,” Cooper said.