Thursday, February 11, 2016

Health Literacy

We can do better!

Health literacy is a big problem in North America.  Even those who have a high literacy standing can have poor health literacy, a lack of understanding of health related understanding.  This can be part of the answer to Michael Shermer's query:  “Why do smart people believe weird things?”

Many people have incorrect assumptions about a multitude of health related topics.  Because of their lack of health literacy, they can often fall prey to the onslaught of misleading and scam memes that get passed around on social media.  They may not be able to tell what's accurate or not, what's real and what is bogus.

As you can see in the attached screencap, 88% of English-speaking adults are not proficient in health understanding.  In fact a majority of the people that are on Medicaid in the USA barely have a reading level above 5th grade.   This is a problem as even basic level health information (pamphlets, print ads, commercial, communications with doctors) is often at grade 10 level or higher.

To help increase the health literacy of North America, we must learn to pass on important information in a simpler way.  This could mean sharing information in a simpler format (the meme is a good example), in simple language.

Ok, maybe not that simple, but something that explains a little bit more.

If we can better educate those who often feel confused (and in turn that confusion can learn to distrust), we will help slow down the effectiveness of predatory quacks who play right into that lack of knowledge and understanding.  Some people though will still hold onto a belief regardless (cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias), taking the time to try may help them eventually, or at least help those who are viewing the exchange.  The battle isn't always for the one right in front of you.

So be patient.  Teach relative to the person's health literacy (and actual literacy).  Hopefully we can create a much healthier and better world.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Do not let suffer, the little children

Recently a friend sent me the above picture that was seen just outside a children's hospital in Toronto.  This poster's creators are promoting the idea that a spiritual cleanse will heal children.  This of course is not true and has never been demonstrated.  Now if one wanted to pray and do a religious ceremony along with proven medical treatments, I would have little problem.  Unfortunately, delving deeper into what the creators of the poster are really about causes me to get very concerned and angry.

This church (Universal Church of the Kingdon of God) seems to prey on very superstitious groups of people as can be seen from the many videos they have including one promoting healing oil from Israel (which has been found out in the past to be regular olive oil from the grocery store) that can do anything, even if you just place it on the picture of the person you are trying to heal (sounds more akin to Voodoo to me).

The church has a long history of being accused of money laundering and charlatanism.  The Belgian government had described the UKCG as a dangerous cult.  It has been linked to various deaths due to its practices.  It has been repeatedly banned in some countries.  Many of its members have gone bankrupted due to the continuous requests from the church insisting huge donations.  It has also been shown to be violently intolerant of other faiths

This is something I've wanted to write about for a while.  As an adult, if you choose to forgo proven medical treatments and instead opt for unproven nonsense, that is your right.  It is sad that one would go that route, to follow false hope, but again that is your right.

With children, it is a whole other issue.  As a parent, I have the obligation to give my child the best chance at survival regardless of my own personal choices.  We should want a better life for our children than we had.  One mistake many parents make is that our children are our property.  They are not.  They are only provisionally in our care, provided we can care for them.  If we cannot care for them, then the best thing for the children is to be with someone else who can do so.

When a parent chooses to deny a child the best treatment for a condition, that parent is being neglectful.  A year ago we saw the case of Makayla Sault, an 11-year-old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia,  whose parents thought it was okay to stop chemotherapy and to seek out faith-based treatments.  This type of leukemia, when treated with proven techniques, has a 90% survival rate.  Sadly, less than a year later Makayla's leukemia relapsed and a few months later she had passed away.

Do the right thing for one's children.  Do not let them suffer needlessly because of one's own insecurities and fears.