Only 12 percent of adults in the United States tested in the National Assessment of Adult Literacy are fully health literate; the majority is at or below basic levels of functioning.
Nine out of 10 adults have difficulty using everyday health information presented by health care facilities, retail outlets, media, local communities and other sources, according to the assessment, which was sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2003, and assessed the English literacy among American adults age 16 and older, including their skills in understanding health-related materials and forms.
Because of these statistics, New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico are working together to educate New Mexicans about general health topics.
“Evidence-based interventions, deployed in ways that are respectful of community, individual and family norms, beliefs and current practice, have been shown to keep people healthy and delay or prevent the need for medical care,” said Sonja Koukel, NMSU Extension health specialist and member of the Cooperative Extension’s National Framework for Health and Wellness committee.
A memorandum of understanding between NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and UNM’s Health Sciences Center Office for Community Health has been established for the two universities to work together to improve community health in New Mexico.
NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service and UNM’s Health Extension Rural Office, or HERO, program created a model that land-grant universities and medical schools across the nation can implement. Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Georgia have shown interest in the New Mexico model.
UNM Health Science Center established its health extension program eight years ago. Carolina Nkouaga, director of operations for the Office of Community Health, said the partnership with NMSU Extension is helping to establish an extension service for health.
“Cooperative Extension Service has the program delivery framework to reach the people with research-based information to help improve their lives,” NMSU’s Koukel said. “UNM has the clinical knowledge that, typically, Extension agents do not have. By working together, we expand our Extension programing into areas of health, which is an initiative of the national Extension Service.”
The Extension and HERO agents have partnered to implement health-related initiatives in several communities. Extension educators teach about nutritional foods while the HERO agent explains the benefits of the healthy diet.
Collaboration has been done during NMSU’s Kitchen Creations, a cooking school program for people with diabetes and their families, in which a certified diabetes educator or registered dietitian provided information about the health condition.
“We are working together to teach the general public about good health practices,” Koukel said. “This program is so new that the Extension and HERO agents can be creative on how they collaborate. The main goal of this partnership is for community members to understand and make personal changes to live healthy lives.”
Information from NMSU