Improving Health Literacy

April 17, 2024
Image illustration of health literacy


UNT researchers across disciplines are studying health literacy to get a better understanding of how people receive and use information to make informed decisions about their health.

For Sara Champlin, associate professor of advertising, that work can range from analyzing medical advertising to interviewing people about how they talk about their own health.

“There’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to health communication,” Champlin says. “We need to make sure information is accessible to everyone and to do that we need to meet people where they are.”

Accessibility doesn’t only mean making a treatment more readily available to the public, as exemplified by the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter hearing aids in October 2022.

“This can become a health literacy challenge because you’re potentially equipping consumers with a medical device, but not necessarily equipping them with knowledge or confidence in using said device,” Champlin says.

Champlin, along with UNT assistant professor of audiology Sharon Miller and doctoral students Abigail Griffith, Ariel Hatley and Candice Reed, are looking at the impact of this policy change. They examined social media marketing of hearing aids by manufacturers six months before and after the FDA announcement.

“What we found is little had evolved in communications when comparing before and after the FDA announcement,” Champlin says. “It is disheartening how infrequently hearing aid brands show a hearing aid in their posts. The way this information is presented can perpetuate hearing aid stigma and is missing some health literacy messaging components, which can make it difficult to understand the new policy.”

Sarah Evans, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science, is working with Joanna Davis-McElligatt, assistant professor in the Department of English, and information science doctoral student Lacy Molina to research whether graphic novels can be used as a medium to improve health literacy among a variety of populations.

The team completed a pilot study with older adults in a rural Texas community to examine the understanding of health information by reading graphic novels including My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s and then creating their own graphic novel pages.

“It was a good proof of concept,” Evans says. “Participants were struck by how reading about someone’s health experiences was powerful and helped them understand the physical experiences with diseases in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

This spring, Evans and her team are conducting studies with adults and teens in Texas urban environments.