Opinion: Health literacy in Minnesota

More needs to be done to educate diverse communities about health and medicine.


Image by Sarah Mai

by Bailee Hill

Imagine getting poked and injected with foreign medicine. Doctors explain what they are doing, but it sounds like static. Nothing is making sense, but you cannot properly explain what hurts. They will not understand. You give up and begin to feel worse. Prescriptions begin to pile up, and you are getting confused when you should take all of them, and you do not know what they do. You only know the oval blue pills are for in the morning and the round red ones are before bed. The other identical circular pills are taken whenever you think is best. The symptoms do not go away. The cycle never stops, and the pain never goes away.

“Minnesota is one of the healthiest states in the nation,” according to the Minnesota Departments of Health and Human Services. But to whom does this pertain? The white American understands the norms of health care and has the capability to explain their needs to their physician. But social factors such as race, income or education are becoming explanations as to why some minorities have such a low life expectancy in the United States and even Minnesota. Every factor has been constructed by society to make it more difficult for minorities. There are unreachable expectations for minorities to reach to have adequate health in the United States.

Studies have taken place in the Midwest to study the correlation between life expectancy and education. People’s education history was surveyed and the length of their life was recorded. Wilder Research found “Life expectancy is nearly 5 years less for those with the lowest levels of education.” This correlates with the fact that most of the time people have higher-paying jobs when they have more education. In Minnesota, it was also surveyed that “Each additional $10,000 in an area’s median household income is associated with a full year gain in life expectancy.” All of this data demonstrates how the lack of health literacy may result in lower life expectancy.

Everyone can have the ability to reach a doctor in Minnesota if needed. But the real issue comes to if someone can understand what is being said in the doctor’s office. Minorities who suffer from low income and education are victims of this issue. These individuals lack health literacy, which “are the degrees to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions from themselves and others,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. To obtain a successful doctor’s visit, the patient must at least understand what happened and explain the symptoms they were experiencing. The lack of health literacy results in misdiagnoses, misusage of prescription drugs and not being able to explain symptoms. All of these factors can decline health and may result in lower life expectancy.

There have been many studies that studied people’s health literacy abilities. In the upper Midwest, researchers visited the Minnesota State Fair to interview attendees. The researchers found the highest health literacy scores were people who were white, college-educated and from an urban area and the lowest health literacy scores were people who only had some or completed high school education and were Asian American or American Indian/Alaska Native. This study is a prime example of how health literacy is an issue in minority communities. Proper health care is crucial for people to live a healthy life.

The awareness of this issue needs to be portrayed in the Twin Cities. Our communities are suffering because there are no resources for them to be healthy in the country they call home. Simple education for adults about health care should be a priority. Helping our communities will help everyone feel more comfortable having appointments with the doctor and also feel confident they know what they are communicating and what they are hearing. Everyone should have a sense of belonging in a hospital. Health literacy is for everyone, and everyone should have the opportunity to grow their knowledge in this area. Advancement in this issue will result in eliminating feelings of isolation about health and saving lives. Knowledge is power and everyone has the right to it.


Bailee Hill is a third-year psychology student at the University of Minnesota and is trying to create more awareness of health literacy in the Twin Cities area.