Health literacy, the ability to understand health-related information in order to make appropriate decisions about one’s health, is a national concern with significant effects on health outcomes and costs. Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., but recent studies show they have lower levels of health literacy than any other racial or ethnic group in the country. Hispanics also have the lowest education attainment level of any group in the U.S.
Dr. Amelia Perez, assistant professor of the SIUE School of Nursing, is investigating possible correlations between education levels and health literacy in Hispanic college students.
Perez’s previous research on Hispanics with high blood pressure revealed that health literacy and acculturation — the degree to which a person adapts to or takes in the beliefs, values and behaviors of a new culture — influenced the participants’ perceptions of high blood pressure and their health-management practices. With this information in mind, she has set out to investigate associations between education and health literacy, acculturation, and health behaviors among Hispanic college students.
“While it seems that levels of health literacy and education would go hand in hand, that may not always be true. Someone who is highly educated in a field or career that is not related to healthcare may not necessarily have a high level of knowledge about health related information,” Perez explains. The study, funded by a 2012-13 SIUE seed grant, focuses specifically on Hispanic young adults, a group with little representation in health literacy research.
Learning more about the associations between health literacy, acculturation, and health behaviors (as well as health risk behaviors) among Hispanic college students will help to identify behavioral trends. Understanding these trends informs the development of educational materials and health promotion programs for Hispanic college students. Promoting health among college-aged Hispanics is essentially important to prevent the development of a variety of illnesses that can form as a result of unhealthy behaviors, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer.
Once she has completed collecting data from Hispanic students, Perez plans to gather data on health literacy and health behaviors among non-Hispanic white and African-American college students. The additional information will allow a comparison between practices and behaviors among the groups, and will reveal if the same disparities of lower health literacy levels among Hispanics exists in a population of college students as it does in the general population.
Perez has contributed to research literature with articles on Hispanic acculturation in Journal of Transcultural Nursing, and on blood pressure self-management among Hispanic adults in the Clinical Nursing Research. A third manuscript focusing on acculturation, health literacy, and perceptions of high blood pressure is under review for publication.