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E is for Empowerment
Health Literacy Challenge: How to Save 92,000 lives & $24 Billion in Healthcare Costs Annually
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Interactive Health Literacy: under researched, unclear concept, measurement challenge


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Promoting Health Literacy-Powerful Information Giving

“...give it to them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely
so they will remember it, and above all accurately, so they will be guided by its light.
~Joseph Pulitzer

When he wrote this succinct recipe for clear communication, Joseph Pulitzer, namesake of the
Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, was complaining to a friend of the rigors of getting information
- the news- to people in a way they can use it. We share that challenge and can learn from
Pulitzer’s wisdom. Let us consider closely his sage advice.

Give it to them...

“I have some great info on that, would you like to see it?” Pulitzer could safely assume people
wanted at least some of the information he put out in his newspaper since they each indicated
their interest by subscribing to the paper or buying it at the newsstand. We can make no such
assumption about information we think parents should have on breastfeeding or first aid or
discipline or sleep safety or any of the seemingly endless topics related to promoting and
maintaining their health and raising a healthy competent child. We do not need to ask parents
to pay for information, but we need to find out if they want it and perceive a need for it before
we give it to them. To skip this step is to risk being ignored and setting up resistance. The
resistance comes up naturally when we ‘dump information on them’ because in the dumping we
put ourselves in charge of their learning, we position them as needy and ourselves as their rescuer.

Adults learn to solve a problem they have now. A key to providing information that parents are ready
to act on and so convert it to knowledge that they can use again, is to offer an opportunity to request
the information. Say a mother tells you, “My son is having tantrums and driving us all crazy!” A
thoughtful empowering response might be, “I have some great information on how to manage tantrums;
would you like to see it?” The question places the mother in charge of her own learning. It positions her
as an information seeker and learner. It implies that she knows something and that she might have
other priorities. The question positions you as a respectful, non-judgmental resource, someone to
whom it is safe to say, “I don’t know”. The question encourages her to request more information on
other topics and increases her capacity to advocate for herself and her child.

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