The Horowitz Center is committed to examining health literacy issues and applying health literacy insights in a wide range of public health contexts. Read on to learn how health literacy and environmental health sciences intersect in the emerging area of study of "environmental health literacy."
What is Environmental Health Literacy?
According to NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) staff, Environmental Health Literacy (EHL) connects environmental exposures and human health in ways that build public literacy about environmental risks and solutions (Finn & O’Fallon, 2017). Finn and O’Fallon (2017) describe EHL as a pathway to empower communities to know and address environmental exposures and risks that may be linked to poor health.
How do people understand – or misunderstand – EHL?
Finn and O'Fallon (2017) argue that mass and social media often focus on the most dramatic or futuristic aspects of environmental hazards. For example, postapocalyptic movies warn against a world with depleted resources and out-of-control climate change. Science may be represented as the cause of environmental destruction, without showing how science can help solve social problems. The overly dramatic or fear-based approach can mislead the public, feed inaccurate risk perceptions, and misdirect attention from actual risks and their possible solutions. Finn and O’Fallon propose that the EHL field develop accurate risk representations that empower people to look through and evaluate available information and make the best choices for their health (Finn & O’Fallon, 2017).
Finn, S., & O'Fallon, L. (2017). The Emergence of Environmental Health Literacy—From Its Roots to Its Future Potential. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(4), 495-501. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1409337