Education, literacy determine your longterm health

Special to the Gazette

New Year's resolutions are often attempts at self-improvement.

Determined, well-intentioned people try to exercise and eat better, choose a book over tv, sign up for a class. Everyone has habits they want to break or hobbies they want to pick up. Resolutions are usually about changing yourself, but this year the Williamsburg Health Foundation dares you to think big. We challenge you to make a resolution to change the world around you: make your community a healthier place to live for everyone.

Good health is not just a personal success, and poor health is not only a personal failing. Your education is a dramatic social determinant of health – the more years in school, the easier it is to stay healthy.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that college graduates live at least five years longer than those who never finished high school. Better education is linked to lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. With the higher income jobs education affords, families unlock many opportunities to stay healthy: they're likely to live nearer supermarkets, parks and sidewalks, as well as adequate health care.

On its website, the local nonprofit group Literacy for Life makes a bold statement: "literacy is a stronger predictor of an individual's health status than income, employment status, education level and racial or ethnic group."

Literacy for Life has been educating Williamsburg-area residents since 1975. Literacy is only the tip of their iceberg.

Adult Basic Education develops reading, writing, and math skills. Tutoring is available for students struggling at local high schools and Thomas Nelson Community College. The Work Skills Program provides tools for career development, from training in financial literacy to preparation for the GED exam.

With funding from the Williamsburg Health Foundation, Literacy for Life added what is now known as The HEAL Program to its offerings. HEAL is an acronym for Health Education and Literacy and a program which addresses the intersection between literacy and health.

"Health literacy" includes reading and writing, but in a context of a person's ability to obtain, understand, and act on information about their health. The 8-week adult course covers skills essential to health, things like accurately describing symptoms, understanding medication labels, filling out forms, making healthier day-to-day choices, and far more. Separate training for health care professionals raises awareness of and provides approaches to serving patients with low health literacy.

You can change lives and work towards an equitable, healthy community by supporting Literacy for Life. To learn about becoming a tutor or to make a donation, call (757) 221-3325 or visit their website at www.literacyfor life.org.

Goad works at the Williamsburg Health Foundation. The Foundation works to improve the health of those in the Greater Williamsburg area through financial and educational support.

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