Health Literacy & Family Engagement

Many people find it hard to understand health jargon. The better we understand shared health, oral health, and mental health information, the healthier choices we can make. Head Start and Early Head Start programs are responsible for helping parents decipher this "health talk." They also encourage all families to engage with an ongoing source of continuous and culturally competent care.

Family culture and beliefs have an impact on health practices. There are several key elements to supporting health literacy and family engagement, including understanding the unique cultures and languages of the families served. Programs also should provide interesting and diverse family health education opportunities, including prenatal and post-partum education. Implementing a strong health literacy program can help!

Featured Resources

Health managers and other program staff are encouraged to explore the following resources to improve their knowledge of health literacy:

Contact Us

If you would like help finding resources, please contact us at health at ecetta dot info.

What Is Health Literacy?

Health literacy is how well you are able to find, understand, and use the kind of information that you need to make health decisions for yourself and for your family. Without good health literacy, it is harder to stay healthy.

What you need to do to stay healthy can change. It is important for you to be able to understand the changing information that is available for you, and to be able to make decisions for yourself and your loved ones.

Understanding Health Literacy

Every day, you make decisions about your health. Health doesn't just happen at the hospital or your doctor's office. You make health decisions at home, at work, where you shop, and where your children play. You make health decisions not only when you are sick, but also in how you prevent sickness and injuries in your family. Good information is the key to taking care of your health and the health of your family.

Most adults have a hard time understanding the information that they find in health clinics, hospitals, stores, newspapers, and online. When people do not understand health information, they are more likely to:

  • Skip appointments that can keep them healthy
  • End up in the emergency room
  • Have trouble caring for health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Miss important prevention tips

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Why Health Literacy Matters

Health literacy is understanding and using the information that can help you make good health decisions. When it comes down to it, health literacy matters because you and your family matter.

Health literacy is important because school readiness begins with health. Children who arrive at Head Start healthy, who eat well, who are active, and who receive appropriate and timely health services are more ready to learn. Your health literacy can affect your child's success in Head Start and the school years beyond. Parents who have good information and who understand their child's health status, screening results, and health needs can help their children get off to a good start in school and in life.

Parents who know how to recognize different illnesses in their children can respond quickly. They also have fewer unnecessary visits to the doctor or emergency room and fewer missed school days. Those who understand oral health prevention can help keep their children's mouth healthy and get them the dental care they need. Parents who understand the importance of screening and immunizations also follow up on results and recommendations.

Head Start staff can help you find information you need to improve your health. Don't wait; start improving your literacy now for a healthier future for your family.

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Recommended Websites


Health Literacy in Head Start [PDF, 2.8MB]
Review health literacy matters outlined in this presentation to the HHS Secretary's Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation.

Video Resources

Dr. Howard Koh speaking about the importance of health literacy at an Institute of Medicine event
Listen to Dr. Howard Koh discuss the importance of health literacy.

What You Can Do to Improve Health Literacy

Health literacy challenges occur on many levels. Head Start health managers and other program staff can play a role at multiple levels to improve health literacy. Find resources for working at the national, health care system, state, organizational, and individual levels.

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National Level

Get familiar with the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.

Office of Head Start National Center on Health

Learn how the National Center on Health is helping Head Start communities to integrate health literacy.

State Level

Find health literacy activities in your state and at local health departments.

Individual Level

Look critically at all written materials, media communications, and trainings to be sure they are at a level your families can understand. They also need to be culturally appropriate. Providing information that people cannot understand is generally ineffective and discouraging.

Additional Resources:

Physical Health

Mental Health

Nutrition and Healthy Active Living

Safety and Injury Prevention

Expectant Families

Archive Documents

Physical Health

Mental Health

Safety and Injury Prevention

Expectant Families

Health Services Management

Last Reviewed: December 2016

Last Updated: February 23, 2017