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Article

Michael Mackert, Sara Champlin, and Jisoo Ahn

Health literacy—defined as the ability of an individual to obtain, process, understand, and communicate about health information—contributes significantly to health outcomes and costs to the U.S. health-care system. Approximately one-quarter to one-half of U.S. adults struggle with health information, which includes understanding patient education materials, reading medication labels, and communicating with health-care providers. Low health literacy is more common among the elderly, those who speak English as a second language, and those of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to conceptualizing health literacy as an individual-level skill, it can also be considered an organizational or community-level ability. Increased attention to the field of health literacy has resulted in debates about the definition and the best ways to assess health literacy; there is also a strong and growing movement within the field of health literacy research and practice to frame health literacy less as a deficit to overcome and more as an approach to empowering patients and improving outcomes. As health-care providers have recognized the importance of health literacy, workshops, and training programs have been developed and evaluated to improve the care of low-health-literate patients. Similarly, health promotion professionals have developed best practices for reaching low-health-literate audiences with traditional and new digital media, which can also increase access for patients with hearing or visual impairments. Additionally, recent policy changes in the United States, including those related to the Affordable Care Act, contribute to a greater focus and regulation of factors that impact health literacy. Researchers and practitioners together are advancing understanding of health literacy, its relationship to health outcomes and health-care costs, and improved strategies for improving the health of lower health literate patients. Development and review of health literacy pieces can aid in shared decision making and provide insights for patients on various health-care services.

Article

Fatalism is a set of beliefs that encompasses such dimensions as predestination, pessimism, and attribution of one’s health (life events) to luck. Locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe they are in control of events that affect them. Individuals with an external locus of control perceive their life is controlled by environmental factors they can’t change, or by chance or fate. Fatalism and external locus of control are both negatively associated with health behaviors and health outcomes; and contribute to health disparities due to the link between culture and socio-economic factors.

Article

Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, and Naomi Tan

Cultivation theory examines the effects of the media, mainly television on viewer perception over an extended period of time. Television is seen by people throughout the globe, with many spending considerable amounts of time watching the medium. The act of watching television has been described as the first leisure activity to cut across social and ethnic divisions in society. This made it a unique mass media tool because mass message dissemination to diverse groups in a population was made possible. Cultivation scholars have studied the effects of the medium, trying to understand how television content can alter one’s social reality. Heavy viewers are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of cultivation. The reality of these effects poses important questions for health communication scholars considering the role television plays in disseminating health messages. Health communication scholars became interested in studying cultivation to understand the health-related effects the medium could have on viewers. Understanding the health effects of television is pivotal, considering that television and the structures that constitute television content set the agendas for many health topics, often disseminating negative and positive messages that can impact society, especially the young and impressionable. With television content addressing health issues such as nutrition, diet, body image, tobacco, cancer, drugs, obesity, and women’s health, cultivation theory can offer health communication scholars a framework to understand how health behaviors are shaped by the mass media and the roles these media play in reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. By establishing a basis for studying how such portrayals have direct health-related effects on viewers, cultivation theory creates openings for questioning the structures of the media that put out unhealthy content and for interrogating the roles and responsibilities of media agenda in inculcating positive health messages. Directions for future research include looking at contextually contrasting populations that share different cultural and community values, and different ways of consuming television. Research questions exploring the roles of community structures with different sets of subjective norms, or with different roles of community norms, in the realm of cultivation effects offer new areas for exploration.

Article

Steven H. Kelder, Deanna M. Hoelscher, and Ross Shegog

Social cognitive theory (SCT) is an action-oriented approach to understanding the personal cognitive, environmental, and behavioral influences on behaviors and to developing theory-based interventions to improve the health status and inequities of societies. It has broad applications across a diverse array of health-enhancing and health-compromising behaviors and has been used successfully in a variety of cultures, with many different intervention methods. Social cognitive theory provides empirically based concepts to explain health behavior and provides useful constructs and processes with which to design interventions. Intervention design using SCT typically follows a sequence of information gathering and project development steps. Literature about the magnitude of the heath problem, its’ risk factors, and the success of previous intervention attempts is carefully reviewed and summarized. The review is presented to the community and qualitative and quantitative assessments are undertaken with the recipients of the intervention to identify the most salient and powerful SCT constructs that are associated with the targeted behavior. Taken together, these preliminary data are then used in the application of SCT constructs for intervention design. Given the recognized differences in how SCT constructs manifest with different ethnic and cultural groups, the careful delineation, tailoring, measurement, and application of these constructs are critical for successful interventions.