How health and literacy fit together

August 2011… Editor’s note: We were fortunate to have two interns this summer: Emily Eisner, a sophomore at Dartmouth College, and Mimi Owusu, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. Here, Emily shares her reflections. 

When the summer started, one of my goals was to understand how Healthy NewsWorks went about achieving its mission. I believed in the value of education to promote literacy and public health individually, but I didn’t know whether the two fit together.

Helping to upgrade the program’s record-keeping technology – my first project as an intern – was a rewarding technical experience for me and important to Healthy NewsWorks’ future growth, but it did not exactly give me insight into how writing and reporting could be a vehicle to teach about public health.

But one day, as I fiddled with software, I focused on two posters on the wall, featuring blowups of front pages of healthy newspapers. One article asked “Should soda cost more?” It looked at whether a tax on soda sales would reduce soda consumption. I was struck by the complexity of the writing and research by sixth graders.

I soon began to look through nearly every Healthy NewsWorks publication from the past school year. The range of topics and depth of information was striking. A student’s first-person article about her experience with Type I diabetes was accompanied by an article her classmates researched and wrote about the disease.

I realized this project not only fills gaps in the students’ knowledge about health, but teaches them the skills to continue learning and communicating about health for the rest of their lives.

As I interviewed participants, I heard many students share at home what they’ve learned from the newspapers, fostering healthier eating and exercise patterns with their families.

I now see how important both health and literacy are in creating healthier and more informed communities.


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