Diabetes Health Education for Latinos through Innovative Informational Materials

dharmafinalcoverBy Dharma E. Cortés, Ph.D.

This project was funded by a Pfizer’s Health Literacy Initiative 2001 Grant Program Award

Citation: Cortés DE. Diabetes Health Education for Latinos through Innovative Informational Materials. Harvard School of Public Health: Health Literacy Website. 2003. Available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/healthliteracy/ innovative/diabetes.html. Accessed “insert date.”


The goal of the project was to develop easy-to-understand informational materials about diabetes for Spanish-speaking Latinos based on personal testimonial accounts. The developed materials addressed health literacy issues affecting Latinos by using non-print mediums such as a low-literacy brochure, an audiotape, as well as TV and radio programs. The importance of this project as it relates to health literacy and health status is two-fold: Latinos residing in the United States are disproportionately affected by diabetes, and about 56% of Latinos residing in the United States is functionally or marginally illiterate.

The project focused on the development of diabetes informational materials that address the health literacy needs of Spanish-speaking Latinos as well as their cultural referents and language needs. In other words, the project focused on health literacy in the context of language, culture and health beliefs. The approach used in the development of materials was participatory. Qualitative research methods were used to develop testimonials designed to teach individuals about diabetes. The targeted community was Spanish-speaking Latinos with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes that resided in an economically disadvantaged geographical area. A Spanish low-literacy brochure and an audiotape (materials are enclosed) based on a testimonial approach were developed to inform individuals about diabetes. The materials were tested for comprehension and information recall compared to two readily available Spanish diabetes brochures with a sample of 112 individuals.

Individuals who read the low-literacy brochure and/or listened to the audiotape appeared to comprehend and recall more information (30 days after exposure) about diabetes compared to those who were exposed to readily available diabetes brochures written in Spanish.

By addressing health literacy issues in the context of language, culture, and health beliefs, this project addressed health literacy at a level of specificity that responded to the needs of the targeted community: Spanish-speaking Latinos. The findings from this study suggest that testimonial approaches might be effective educational tools to address information gaps in disease management programs. In addition, the materials that were developed could also be used as educational tools to improve patient-provider communication.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1998). National Diabetes Fact Sheet: National estimates and general information on diabetes in the United States. Revised edition. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Weiss, B.D., Hart, G., Pust, R.E. (1991) The relationship between literacy and health. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 1, 351-363.