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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UMass Amherst Associate Professor to Lead Team Studying Maternal Health Literacy

Dr. Elena Carbone, associate professor of Nutrition in the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, recently received a one-year, nearly $30,000 Research Development Fund grant through the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) to collaborate with colleagues in Ghana, Australia, England and the U.S. to conduct maternal health literacy research. The University of Massachusetts Amherst is one of only 21 universities invited to be part of the WUN.

[Photo: Dr. Elena Carbone]

She says, “The grant, called ‘MPower: Empowering Mothers for Health,’ will provide seed money that’s primarily focused on developing and strengthening global research partnerships. This work will lay the foundation for submission of joint grant proposals to determine how mothers globally develop the skills, knowledge, confidence and capacity to maintain their health and that of their family.”

The main focus of the grant is to strengthen the performance of an international maternal health literacy research team, facilitate two training workshops, stimulate student/early career research and submit joint research publications.

According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality, health literacy is increasingly recognized as a key determinant of health with growing evidence that lower health literacy is independently associated with higher rates of morbidity and mortality, poorer health knowledge, greater medication errors and higher hospitalization rates. Further, health literacy levels are lowest among socially disadvantaged groups, the same populations with higher preventable non-communicable diseases rates and greater difficulties in accessing health services and managing their health conditions.

The World Health Organization has identified improving health literacy as a key strategy for improving the health of disadvantaged populations and tackling health inequalities in developed and developing countries.

Despite the importance of health literacy, preliminary results of a scoping review led by Dr. Carbone and other WUN Health Literacy Network partners indicate that few studies have examined maternal health literacy specifically; fewer still have focused on skill development or empowerment of women in poverty. This project is designed to develop a long-term and sustainable research plan to fill these gaps and is part of a five-stage approach to develop a universal research strategy to promote health literacy in parents and empower women globally. Moreover, this project introduces an innovative community-based participatory method to the field of health; and focuses on critical health skills, empowerment, and health for health protection and promotion – all of which have been largely ignored.

The WUN Health Literacy Network is the first research initiative of its kind, bringing together a global, multi-disciplinary team of researchers and patient representatives from a range of disciplines (e.g. public health, medical/health psychology, occupational therapy, nursing, and health informatics), expertise (e.g. health literacy, e-health communication technologies, intervention development and evaluation, and patient-provider communication); and geographic locations (Africa, Australasia, Europe, U.S., Canada).

The WUN Health Literacy Network held workshops in 2012 and 2014 to generate ideas about collaborative projects across the network. From that, five working research groups identified such themes as health literacy in an age of digital communication and health inequalities, integrating health literacy into health professional training and participatory approaches. Another aim was to further develop international multidisciplinary research collaboration in these and other themes.