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J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 May;98(5):559-64.

Factors influencing nutrition education for patients with low literacy skills.

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Mass. 02115, USA.


Although there has been increasing attention to cancer prevention among low-income and minority populations, only a few nutrition interventions have addressed the special needs of people with low literacy skills. To determine the best provider and the most effective format for a nutrition intervention targeting patients with low literacy skills, we conducted interviews with literacy experts and health care providers and focus groups with members of adult basic education classes. Thirty-five literacy experts and health-center-based physicians, nurses, and nutritionists in Boston, Mass, were interviewed. In addition, 50 volunteer clients from 4 Boston-based adult basic education programs participated in 6 focus groups. Results suggested that health care providers consider nutrition to be a fundamental health education topic, but that its successful inculcation in patients with limited literacy skills is hindered mostly by insufficient provider time. Almost all providers agreed that patients need to be referred to nutritionists for nutrition education. Although most providers and patients acknowledged that patients perceive physicians to be the authorities on health, patients with low literacy skills turned first to family members and friends for health information. These results suggest that effective nutrition interventions must build on patients' social networks; appear in a visually based, interactive format; and be culturally appropriate.

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