• How to Use the Internet to Improve Your Health Literacy

  • by McKenna Meyer

An understanding of health literature is necessary for making informed decisions about your health. Limited health literacy can interfere with your ability to access health information, adopt healthy behaviors, and independently make medical decisions –all of which impact the freedom you have when it comes to your health.


The SMOG readability formula is a common measurement used to evaluate health literacy. The formula estimates the years of education required for an individual to comprehend a piece of literature. While the idea behind this formula seems logical, it is an inadequate system to measure health literacy.

SMOG works by counting the number of polysyllabic words (words with 3 or more syllables) in a piece of literature in proportion to the rest of the words in the writing. This is concerning for health fields because this standard implies that words like “cholesterol,” “nutrition,” and “exercise,” are too complex for individuals of lower education levels. It does not make sense that under this reasoning, medical literature can include the word “glucose” and assume that readers comprehend this word over the more common, but polysyllabic word, “cigarette.”

Health literacy is meant to measure the capacity that individuals can understand basic health information so that they can make informed health decisions. The SMOG formula is a poor measurement tool because health literacy cannot be determined simply off of word length. As a result of current SMOG estimates of health literacy, pamphlets found in waiting rooms and other forms of health literature are over-simplified to be considered accessible under the SMOG standards. This is concerning because words like “fat” and “sugar” are often used inappropriately in place of polysyllabic words like “diabetes.” Rather than eliminating long words from health literature, health professionals should focus on educating patients by defining these terms.


Luckily, advances in e-health make health literacy education more accessible. Search engines allow you to research health literature on your own time. You can now access your medical records, labs, and reports all in one place through patient portals. These programs allow you to improve your relationship with your physician by being able to interact with your physician at all hours and overall, have more control over your health conditions than ever before.

What is exciting about these e-health opportunities is that they enable seniors to be more informed so that they can maintain better health practices, allowing them to stay in their homes longer than previous generations. Online resources allow individuals to access their medical files from home which grants the user more independence and control over their health.


Not only will becoming comfortable on the internet improve your health literacy, but you will also have the opportunity to expand your online presence through social networking sites that can be used to maintain connections with your friends and relatives or establish a professional presence that allows you to work from home. An increased understanding of your health status will help you with your independence and therefore give you more freedom in your retirement. E-health resources are only improving which is why it is important to establish an online presence now so that you can continue to independently monitor your health.

A reverse mortgage is a healthy way to manage your finances so that nothing can stand in the way of your retirement dreams. A reverse mortgage allows you to access the equity in your home to help you live a more comfortable, independent, and healthy retirement.

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