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Health Literacy as a Situational, Social Practice in Context - Insights from Three Research Projects among "Vulnerable Groups"

  • Globalization, digitalization, global pandemics, climate change, and infodemic pose increasing challenges to individuals, communities, and societies, which require good health literacy to maintain and promote health. Empirical evidence on HL (health literacy) has rapidly increased worldwide and exposed the inadequate levels of HL in most countries. Especially people with low socioeconomic background, low educational attainment, and migrants are considered vulnerable to low HL, based on quantitative studies and conclusions. A group that is multiply affected and variously described as vulnerable is people of Afghan descent. However, empirical evidence on their actual HL and their HL practices in everyday life is scarce. To empower people to respond adequately to current and future health-related changes, a good knowledge of HL in the relevant population group is indispensable. Since recent qualitative studies indicate that health literacy can only be adequately described as a real practice in its specific context and unique situation, I explore in this dissertation how HL can be captured and described as a contextual, situational social practice, using the example of people of Afghan descent with different research methods. This work incorporates three major research projects, each employing different methods to explore HL among Afghans and provide relevant insights into the concept of HL. Research on health and health literacy is diverse, so it is important to begin this work by outlining the different understandings of health and health literacy and common strategies for promoting them. Since health is understood from a health promotion perspective as a positive, comprehensive concept in a socio-ecological context, HL is consequently not understood as an individual autonomous skill but as a contextual, social practice. Accordingly, health and HL are also described in context by the groups under consideration, and their possible influence on HL is shown. The use of the term vulnerable is critically examined, and the focus is shifted away from the characteristics of the individual to the influencing circumstances. Based on raw determinants and health outcomes, HL in Afghanistan is rated as low. Given the diverse data on immigrant populations and the different theories explaining their health status, it is shown that immigrant populations face many pressures and need to acquire new HL. Third, building on the course offering: language course, it is argued that those participating in it (including Afghans) need to improve their HL. Building on account of the health literacy of so-called vulnerable groups, which traced the complexity and heterogeneity, it is concluded that HL needs to be understood and explored as a contextual, situational, social practice to adequately describe HL. Therefore, in the three research projects, special emphasis is placed on the respective overall social context, the situation's specifics, the use of language, the actual actions, and the meaning of social others. Furthermore, it is examined what can be learned from the respective methodological approach to HL with regard to HL as a contextual, situational social praxis, as well as how the vulnerability or resource wealth of the target group and the vulnerability- or capability-producing context are revealed. Last, important lessons for HL promotion were derived from all three projects. The first four contributions are from a quantitative, cross-sectional study in central Afghanistan that examines HL, determinants, outcomes, but also quality of life, and beliefs in two groups of people influential to health, heads of households (N= 524) and female patients and/or caretakers (N=322). Participants were in a two-stage randomization process identified and orally interviewed by trained interviewers of the same sex. The study provides empirical evidence of poor determinants of health and health outcomes, health behaviors that need improvement, and low health literacy. The analysis showed that HL is largely related to schooling opportunities (for women). Surprisingly, despite adverse circumstances, an astonishing number of Afghans exhibit positive health behaviors. A qualitative examination of the items of the HLS-EU-Q16 shows which activities are particularly difficult and, at the same time, particularly prerequisite-rich, which should also be better researched in the future for developing interventions. The second three contributions stem from the ELMi research project, which ethnographically researched the HL of immigrant youth (including three Afghan refugees) in everyday life and embedded the findings in a review and theoretical considerations. The limitations of reviews for describing HL in vulnerable groups became obvious in these three theoretical contributions. Furthermore, the frequent, mostly implicit theoretical orientation of HL as an individual rational-choice model and three alternative models for the description of HL were presented, a difference-deficit model was introduced, and a plea for applying sociological theories, especially the capability approach, was given. Overall, the ethnographic studies revealed the need for further studies of vulnerable groups from a salutogenic perspective, the conceptualization of HL as family HL, and the interwovenness of analog and digital worlds and respective HL. The third three contributions are from the SCURA research project, which ethnographically explored the role of health and health literacy in language and integration courses and developed appropriate methods for promoting HL in them. The contribution of integration courses to the promotion of HL was presented in detail, the corridor of possible interventions was explored and described, and concrete suggestions were made as to how the knowledge gained from language didactics can be transferred to health promotion and how language-sensitive health promotion can be used as an effective and sustainable method. Finally, the key strengths and limitations of the studies were highlighted, and the question of 'vulnerability' was revisited in light of the results found. Furthermore, the five aspects of HL as a contextual, situational, and social practice were re-examined with the help of the results obtained, and other studies, recommendations for the promotion of HL through context, acquisition, and targeted support were presented, and the capability approach was applied to the results. In many ways, this multi-project, multi-method, multi-perspective approach to HL of so-called vulnerable groups highlighted the need to describe HL as a contextual, situational social practice. Since many new, little-trodden paths were taken in this work, this work can serve as an impetus for many other researchers to critically examine the topic. The work unmistakably revealed how relevant a good understanding and targeted, context-sensitive promotion of HL is.

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Author:Stefanie Harsch
Referee:Josef Nerb, Diana Sahrai
Advisor:Uwe H. Bittlingmayer, Diane Levin-Zamir
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2022
Publishing Institution:Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg
Granting Institution:Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg, Fakultät I
Date of final exam:2022/09/15
Release Date:2022/10/20
Tag:Second Language
Afghanistan; Global Health; Health Literacy; Health Promotion; Migration; Social Practice; Vulnerability
GND Keyword:Globale Gesundheit; Gesundheitsförderung; Gesundheitskompetenz; Verwundbarkeit; Zweitsprache
Page Number:260 pages plus Annex (172 pages including 10 publications)
DDC class:300 Sozialwissenschaften
600 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften
Open Access:Frei zugänglich
Licence (German):License LogoUrheberrechtlich geschützt