Part 2 of our Health Literacy Month series-
Genetics has become more prominent in the news in recent years. Sometimes it looks like great scientific advancement and other times it can look a little unsettling and seem like something out of science fiction. Genomic health literacy is becoming increasingly important as precision medicine, pharmacogenomics, and direct-to-consumer genetic testing and other genetic associated topics are emerging at the intersection between health and genetics, and consumers need access to information about these and other related topics in a manner that is understandable.
It has been noted that many Americans do not have the genomic literacy levels needed to start comprehending what genetics has to do with health. The general public’s understanding of basic biology especially in regards to genetics and understanding of mathematical concepts in regards to probability theory, risks and statistics is no-where near adequate to where they can comprehend the recent scientific advances and achievements especially in regards to the genomic component. Also, the public needs to consider the role that genomics plays in healthcare decision making, lifestyle changes, family history as well as the social and ethical aspects. If the public cannot understand this then its impact on their health behavior may be little to none. Many people who have lower genomic health literacy may also have low health literacy or low literacy in general.
You may have noticed the use of the words genetics and genomics. These two words are often used interchangeably but they actually mean two different things and this can be confusing. Genetics is the more familiar term. It refers to the study of specific, individual genes and their role in inheritance. Genomics refers to the study of all the genes in an organism. But don’t get too caught up in the semantics. The important thing is to know where to go to get some easy to understand information about genetics.
Whether you work in healthcare and are wanting to provide patients with information about genetics and their health, or at a school wanting to provide educational resources for your students or a librarian who has a patron seeking information about participating in a research study focusing on genetics, it is important to provide appropriate and accurate information.