## Thursday, April 2, 2020

### Lost in Covid 19 Numbers: Numeracy in America

Pick a number, any number. (Stay with me here)
Now, assume your number is the amount of calories in one serving of “krall.” If your doctor told you that you need to limit your daily caloric intake to 1500 calories, what percentage of your daily total does a serving of krall represent?
So, you’re thinking – “One serving of krall has 400 calories.  That’s 37% of my 1500 calories, so if I eat this I’ll blow around 1/3 of all the calories I’m allowed for the day.  Forget about the krall today.”
If  you figured this out easily YOU ARE IN THE SMALL MINORITY OF ADULTS IN THE US WITH ADEQUATE NUMERACY (MATH) SKILLS.
Numeracy = a person's ability to understand and work with numbers.  It helps to think of  functional categories of health numeracy: basic, computational, analytical, and statistical.(Lipkus and others, 2001; Peters and others, 2006).

We've known for decades that more than half of US adult have low health literacy- reading, writing and working with numbers .  (Kirsch, I., Jungeblut, A., Jenkins, L. and Kolstad, A. (1993); Nielsen-Bohlman, L., Panzer, A. M. and Kindig, D. A., eds. 2004).   Poor and marginalized populations are disproportionately low health literate and struggle with numerical info.
Given that public health experts ( and others) are almost exclusively using numbers ( rates, probabilities, percentages, - graphs, charts and animated statistical models) to talk Covid we must ask WHO ARE THEY TALKING TO?
Why have they picked the most difficult way to talk about the risk of Covid and the path of the pandemic?

Concerning for many reasons, not the least is that low numeracy interferes with what people understand  about health and taking protective actions and inability to work with the math leaves people far more susceptible to pseudo-science (Hibbard and Peters 2003; Peters et al. 2007)
Another important consequence of low numeracy is  it can lead " either to unfounded and crippling anxieties or to impossible and economically paralyzing demands for risk-free guarantees (Paulos 1989).”

I'm hosting a virtual (Zoom) seminar tomorrow ( registration is full) BUT I'll be posting the recorded session  here and on my website immediately afterward.  So please check back.
Thank you

Soundbites: Health Literacy & Covid 19
A seriess series of talks meant for those working to communicate Covid 19 to patients and the public. The series makes use of knowledge from linguistics, language comprehension and reading, public health, information processing and risk perception and psychology. Each session will be about 45 minutes with time for questions throughout.

Led by Christina Zarcadoolas PhD
& Health Literacy Lab