Health literacy, or the ability to find and use information to promote and maintain good health and well-being, is most often focussed on adults.

However, research shows that we achieve most of our learning about how to be ‘healthy’ from our family, our community and during our school years.

Developing health literacy therefore must start in the early years and be ‘built from the ground up.’

With Tasmania having the lowest average rates of health literacy in Australia, the University of Tasmania’s Dr Rosie Nash and Dr Shandell Elmer have been focussing on school communities – to help change these statistics.

In collaboration with other researchers across the University, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education, a pilot program was initiated working with teachers and students at Blackmans Bay Primary School.

“We know that the attitudes and behaviours formed during childhood can greatly predict adult health patterns, so we were looking for ways to work closely with children, to provide them with opportunities to explore health issues and develop essential health literacy competencies,” Dr Nash said.

In 2016, we started planning a pilot preventative health project to empower teachers and students to explore, discuss, design and share resources to improve the health literacy of all Tasmanian children.

“From this the HealthLit4Kids Program was born.”

HealthLit4Kids embodies the OpHeLiA (Optimising Health Literacy and Access to Health information and services) principles (participatory, community-focused, equity driven and sustainable), and recognises that health literacy is a complex interplay between an individual, their community and health services.

Dr Nash said improved health literacy supported improved healthcare in everyday life leading to preventative health measures, less burden on the health system, informed patient-decisions and better health outcomes for individuals, their families and their community.

As a pharmacist, Dr Nash has experienced first-hand the impact that poor health literacy can have on the health of individuals and communities and understands the enormous responsibility health services and professionals have when responding to the needs of individuals accessing these services.

HealthLit4Kids acknowledges the importance of a collective public health solution for sustained long-term improvements.

“In the 2017 pilot of HealthLit4Kids, we worked with Blackmans Bay Primary to co-design an education package for use in schools to raise awareness of health literacy and prompt discussions about health amongst teachers, children, families and communities.

“We knew through partnering with a school, we would capture evidence of student development of their knowledge and skills about health, however the feedback we received from both teachers and students was far more exciting than we ever could have imagined.”

The school pilot led to teachers asking for further resources for the development of health and health literacy inspired learning activities and items in their classrooms.

Students also told organisers that with the skills they had learnt through the pilot, they were able to better read and understand food labels.

At the end of each day students were telling their parents what they had learnt.

“They were actually empowered to start conversations with their families about good health and in doing so, demonstrating the community breadth that HealthLit4Kids has enabled.”

The Blackmans Bay Primary School pilot recently culminated in the showcasing of HealthLit4Kids at the school’s Twilight Fair.

The HealthLit4Kids Project team are now seeking to roll-out HealthLit4Kids to a further four schools in Tasmania in 2018.

Our greatest aspiration for the future is to see HealthLit4Kids run in every school every year, with teachers and students working towards a healthier community.

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About Dr Rosie Nash

Dr Nash is a Lecturer in Public Health at the School of Medicine in the Faculty of Health. She is interested in Public Health, specifically health promotion and prevention. As evidenced in her previous work Rosie is interested in strategies for optimising health systems and strengthening our health workforce. With a Vice-Chancellors award for Teaching Excellence in 2014, the UTAS community recognised Rosie as an ‘agent for quality enhancement of learning and teaching that assure graduates (future health professionals) are competent lifelong learners’. Looking into the future Rosie is keen to improve the Health literacy of Tasmanian children through the HealthLit4Kids program.

View Dr Rosie Nash's full researcher profile