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Jacksonville City Councilman Says ‘Health Literacy Crisis’ Makes People Sicker

Ryan Benk
Reggie Brown announces Jacksonville's Health Literacy Convention Thursday.

Update 10:03 a.m.: Reggie Brown''s office has rescheduled the forum for August 4, 2018. In a short news release Thursday morning, the office said more details are forthcoming. Check back for more updates.

At Jacksonville City Hall Thursday, Councilman Reggie Brown said Duval County is suffering from a “literacy health crisis,” saying not enough people know and understand health facts and are able to implement them in their daily lives.

Brown said, because many residents lack adequate access to health care or health education, he’s organizing a health literacy event on Saturday, May 12, at City Hall to connect people to local doctors and educators.

“It is timely that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, as well as Stroke Month,” he said. “I took the initiative to have this partnership, and actually it kind of comes on the heels of having the food desert — not having healthy communities. So, all these tie in together, so I felt it was appropriate to pull this together for the city of Jacksonville.”

Brown’s May 12 convention is being facilitated by Jacksonville-based Optimus Literacy Institute of America, Inc., which describes itself as “providing basic academic, vocational and daily living skills to address specific challenges.” The roster of presenters will include a number of local doctors and community organizers.

Although the event will include some physical and mental health exams, it’ll mostly be about educating residents about daily healthful living.

Mayo Clinic’s Dr. David Miller, who is participating, said the first step to minimizing health disparities is to teach people how to live better.

“One thing I have learned over many years is that probably the most cost-effective and most efficient thing you can do is educate people. People who are educated, they take their medicines when they’re supposed to take their medicines because they know why. They avoid behaviors that will exacerbate their illnesses because they know why,” he said.

Arecent study from the University of Florida’s Department of Emergency Health bolsters Miller’s claim. Published in October 2017, the study found that “patients unable to adequately understand basic health information are more than twice as likely to experience a preventable emergency room visit.”

Brown, along with other council members, previously sponsored a bill appropriating $3 million in city funds for the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Trust Fund toincentivize supermarket owners to locate in the area. That’s after a number of grocery stores shuttered or announced plans to close. Brown said the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables was one contributor to poor health.

Residents of the predominantly African-American quadrant of Northwest Jacksonville have worse health outcomes than those living in more affluent, whiter areas. The area has higher rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, among other ailments, according to theDuval County Health Department’s 2016 strategic plan. Broadly speaking, blacks and Latinos in Duval are more likely to live in poverty, be less educated and die from chronic and preventable diseases.

Duval’s Health Department divides the county into six health zones. Northwest Jacksonville has the most overlap with Health Zone 1, the area with the highest death rate when adjusted for age, according to anotherHealth Department report from 2012.

In 2017, the state ranked Duval County 55th out of 67 Florida counties for health outcomes and 32nd for health factors — meaning Jacksonville residents are more likely than average to engage in unhealthy behaviors and deal with more severely negative “social and environmental factors.”

The May 12 health literacy convention will take place at Jacksonville City Hall between 8 a.m. and noon.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.