June 20

Creating Your Own Health Literacy Program: Tools from the What To Do For Health Book Series

Gonzalez_smDiana Gonzalez, MPH, CHES
Institute for Healthcare Advancement

This pre-conference session will discuss lessons learned from programs implemented in 2015 surrounding IHA’s “What To Do” book series. We will explore the programs that were developed for the books “What To Do for Senior Health, “What To Do For Your Teen’s Health”, and “What To Do When Your Child Gets Sick”. Participants will learn health literacy tools and tips that could be used to develop new programs or enhance existing ones.

In this workshop, Diana provides an in depth look into how programs can benefit from health literacy principals. Participants were engaged in the workshop content through interactive group discussions and workshop participation. Items discussed included simple health literacy principals, provided examples of programs that include health literacy principals, how to apply health literacy principals to current programs.

Health literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information services to make appropriate health decisions.

Design Strategies


Patient information should we easy to read, simple, and clean. The following are myths (which are also mistakes) that individuals tend to believe are best when developing patient information.

  • More is better
  • White space is meant to be filled up
  • Fancy and fun font types are cool and good to use
  • Style should be formal
  • Art provides effective communication


The reality is that less is better, the more white space the easier it is to read and follow, stick with simple font types, style should be informal and written at a 3-5th grade reading level, although graphics are ok they must be limited and to ensure the item is conveying the right message.

5 Design Strategies

  1. Type  – the best font type is Serif for the body, San serif for the headings, at 12-14 font size, Avoid “ALL CAPS”, make use of high contrast
  2. Paragraphs – Use 1.2 to 1.5 spacing between lines, leave the right margin jagged, block paragraphs with no indents are best, one line return between paragraphs
  3. Chunking – helps to organize, keep similar ideas together, write things in a logical order, and use clear headings.
  4. Graphics – use to help in understanding, need to be simple and clear, not abstract, provide captions when appropriate, table and charts should also be simple
  5. White space – makes handouts less intimidating, helps to give the eyes a rest, use white space around paragraphs, graphics and pictures, etc.

Helpful Tips

Avoid ghosting – Ghosting is similar to using “watermarks”. Avoid using ghosting since it is not easy on the eyes and not easy to read.  Avoid reverse type – when white print is used on a colored background.

Writing Strategies

  • Use everyday words – plain language, kitchen talk, plainlanguage.gov has a thesaurus and guidelines to help you
  • Avoid long, complex sentences – use about 10-15 words per sentence , if sentences are too long you lose the reader
  • Explain technical terms and use examples – sometimes you just can’t use plain language, but you can use a definition written in plain language to explain the meaning of the technical term, and perhaps give an example about that term.
  • Write in the active voice – active sentences are stronger, shorter and clearer. The person/object comes before the action.

Implementing health literacy principles

Senior Health

  • Belvidere, Illinois – Boone County Council on Aging requested a 1 ½ program about medi-care, fall prevention and home safety.
  • Used IHA’s booklet, developed into a power point
  • Conducted a train the trainer training (for Seniors)
    • Senior learning styles – identify your audience, who is your audience, who is going to be receiving this information, learning styles, what do they need, i.e. Seniors. Collect primary data if possible – go directly to the community (Seniors) ask what they need, what do they want to see, what would make them feel comfortable to sit in a classroom.
    • Tips for presenting: A good idea to get someone that identifies with that population/community.
    • Practice trouble shooting – met with the trainer and looked at goals together, asked what worked or didn’t work
    • A quiz was provided
      • What worked: handed out surveys, put the questions on the power point and questions were read out loud.
      • What didn’t work: it was too time consuming but beneficial for collecting the necessary data
    • Lessons learned – participants enjoyed the class, seniors enjoyed having a felling Senior facilitator, wanted more details on Medicare but there was only so much information than can fit in an 1 ½ workshop.

Teen Health – Using IHA’s “What To Do For Youth Teen Health” Book and “We Thrive” Curriculum

       Teen Health Book

  • Phone number list – front page for immediate reference, and easy to access, emergency/hotline phone numbers
  • How parents can help teens – provides information about how parents can help teens through the issues they may encounter
  • Teen issues – comprehensive list of teen issues such as:
    • Dating and sex
    • Teen Safety


The We Thrive curriculum uses IHA’s “What To Do For Your Teen’s Health” Book, the Adult Learning Theory, the Health Belief Model to help parents shift their way of thinking and behavior about their parenting style, also uses Health Literacy principals, and uses the five Youth Thrive Protective and Promotive Factors Framework.

The power point doesn’t use more than 5 bullet points per slide.

Youth Thrive Protective and Promotive Factors

  • Developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy that demonstrates these are the factors needed to be considered successful and healthy
  • Youth Resilience
  • Social Connections
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need
  • Knowledge of Adolescent Development
  • Cognitive and Social Emotional Competence

Each of the above protective factors are difficult concepts and written in a high literacy level. The curriculum has rewritten them using health literacy principals. For instance, Social Connections is called Healthy Relationships in this curriculum.

This curriculum offers fun and interactive group activities that provide opportunities for parent participation, team building, conversation, role playing, and more.

Pilot Program – the La Habra Family Resource Center

  • 10 week program, small sample size of 6 participants, dinner and daycare provided
  • Lessons Learned – participants have a tendency to tell not ask, need to leave ample time for discussion, parents enjoyed speaking with other parents

Sick Child – Using IHA’s “What To Do When Your Child Gets Sick” Book

Sick Child Book

  • Different ways to search – headings and table of content that are easy read and use
  • Ages 0-5
  • Ears and nose
  • Mouth and throat
  • Stomach

Train the trainer training

  • At the 2015 IHA conference, with 30 participants, 4 hour session, class setting on how to use the book
  • Kansas Head Start: video was created and provided by the Kansas Head Start Association
  • Provides hands on practice
  • Uses a 5 step format
  • Lessons learned – can use more practical tools, participants enjoyed the video, want to know about programs for other books



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