COPH’s Cheryl Vamos presents on health literacy at national conference

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Advancing health literacy could be one of the most effective strategies for improving the overall well-being of people in our country.

That is exactly why Dr. Cheryl Vamos, an assistant professor in maternal and child health at the USF College of Public Health (COPH), traveled to the Washington, D.C., area in October to present some of her recent research at the national Health Literacy Research Conference.

Vamos, a COPH alumna, describes health literacy efforts as making sure information and services are available and accessible to all individuals, including doctors and patients, so they can make better health decisions. With this explanation in mind, she’s conducting research on how public health could bridge the research and practice divide with regard to current evidence and what individuals need to be health literate.

Cheryl Vamos, PhD, MPH, presented research on sexual health literacy among    college students at the 2018 Health Literacy Research Conference held in October in Bethesda, Md. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

“As evidence [on both disease progression and prevention/treatment options] continues to evolve, I’m interested in learning how best to translate that information to providers and patients in ways they can understand and use to help inform the decision-making process,” Vamos said.

During her time in the nation’s capital, Vamos spoke to her audience on sexual and reproductive health literacy. She presented ongoing research that she and her team have been working on regarding identifying health literacy assets and needs. She also addressed developing student-centered approaches for encouraging healthy sexual decision-making practices on college campuses.

“We are looking at how to provide the skills and tools needed so college students are informed and empowered to make better decisions to promote their sexual and reproductive health,” said Vamos. “Whether it’s abstaining from sex, choosing the best birth control for them, getting tested for sexually transmitted infections, or even helping them communicate with health care providers, we want to make sure that students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to be healthy and to succeed in their academic goals.”

The results from these ongoing projects gave Vamos and her team a promising solution on how best to advance college students’ sexual and reproductive health literacy: mix technology with direct interaction.

“We piloted a program that showed students want to talk with a reputable source about their health, such as a trained health educator or a health care provider. At the same time, we heard from students that they also want access to easy-to-use, on-demand technology options to help them with their needs,” said Vamos.

With these data in hand, and in partnership with USF Student Health Services, Vamos and her team are working on how to integrate technology into the health care continuum to improve not only students’ health literacy, but also other clinic and health outcomes.   

In broader terms, Vamos shared her thoughts on how to advance health literacy at a systems level, and she ultimately hopes that more efforts are devoted to improving not only individual health literacy, but also organizational health literacy―such as with recreational centers, health clinics, and even grocery stores―where organizations encourage and facilitate health literacy among all community members.

“Health literacy is not just about the ability to read or follow the directions on prescription medication, although that is important,” she said. “We need to put responsibility on all sectors of society to play a role in improving health literacy, so that one day we can reach our goal of improving health outcomes.”

Select Citations:

Vamos, C.A., Griner, S., Thompson, E., Logan, R., Manini, P., & Daley, E. (October 2018). Find-understand-communicate-decide: Examining college students’ sexual and reproductive health literacy skills. 10th Annual Health Literacy Research Conference (HARC), Bethesda, MD.

Vamos, C.A., Thompson, E.L., Logan, R., Griner, S.B., Perrin, K., Merrell, L., & Daley, E.M. (2018). Exploring college students’ sexual and reproductive health literacy. Journal of American College Health. 2018 Nov 2:1-10. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2018.1515757. [Epub ahead of print]

Story by Cody Brown, USF College of Public Health