Social support groups as a means to enhance the health literacy status of ESL-speaking immigrant women

Health literacy is defined as the ability to read and comprehend prescription bottles, appointment slips, and other essential health-related materials, or the capacity to obtain, interpret and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Inadequate health literacy increases a person’s risk of dying of chronic and communicable diseases, and directly affects the ability to follow physician instructions, to understand disease-related information, and to understand health care rights. In particular, immigrant women may struggle to understand health information. On average, they have lower literacy rates than immigrant men and they also have significantly lower literacy levels than the Canadian-born population. There is a social dimension to health literacy, but no study to date has investigated whether or how social support can moderate the effects of health literacy on individual health and health service use. Laura Nimmon is partnering with an immigrant society in BC to implement a community health education program that fosters social relationships for ESL-speaking immigrant women and builds on their health literacy levels. She is creating a pilot program that will educate research participants about health information and guide them to act as community health advisors to their peers, mentoring other immigrant women to participate in healthy choices and activities. Nimmon’s research aims to improve understanding about how peer-based social support groups might enhance the health literacy status of immigrant women and alleviate the adverse health consequences of low health literacy.