Dr Suzanne Piscopo is a full-time lecturer and Head of Department for Heath, Physical Education and Consumer Studies within the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta. She has extensive knowledge on initial teacher training, food technology, health nutrition, consumer studies and home economics. In this interview she speaks to Mahira Mifsud about the role of adult education in supporting people living longer and healthier lives.
Dr Suzanne Piscopo, National Library, Valletta, Malta
1. Can you tell us more about the work that you do, in particular, on health literacy?
My main job is teacher training, however, because we deal with health and consumer studies, there are other faculties where I often lecture, such as in the Institute of Tourism, Travel and Culture where they have courses related to food behavior. I also lecture on how culture is related to our food choices and how tourists can have healthier visits to the island. There are other faculties in which I lecture such as the Faculty of Gerontology where they offer courses dealing with the health of the elderly. We are active by raising awareness about health and consumer choices in schools, on TV and radio. By summing up, a term which was coined by WHO, we try to make the healthier choice, the easier choice, for everybody.
2. What is health literacy?
Helping people to use knowledge, information and services related to health and healthier behavior. People are exposed to correct, accurate, up-to-date health information. It involves teaching people how to ask the right questions, so that they can be informed. It means helping people to be aware of the different health services that are available and how they can make use of these services. It is about empowering people so that they can be responsible in an informed way to make better health choices.
3. 70% of adults in Europe have a gap in basic skills. What are your views on basic skills gap in health literacy?
Basic skills are very important as they are the fundamental things such as reading, writing and numeracy. These skills are important if you would like people to improve their health. If you want people to make healthier choices and read the food labels, read ingredients list, understand them, and if you would like them to understand the numbers and what they mean. Gaps also include asking questions, how to be critical and to see if the source is credible. If basic skills are missing, people may not make the full use of good and accurate information and thus make use of the best options regarding health services. This may impact on their health status individually and the people close to them.
4. Malta has the highest overweight and obesity rates, according to a new World Health Organisation report issued in September 2015. What role does adult education have in tackling such an issue?
There is an increase in awareness when it comes to eating healthier. However, there is a lack of awareness when it comes to the need for regular physical activity. Through adult education the practical aspect regarding healthy eating is supported. When it comes to planning, a meal does not have to be expensive or that time-consuming. Adult education provides an understanding of reading food labels carefully both in its nutritional value and in a sustainable value. Adult education helps people to be more critical. It helps them read between the lines.
5. What are your 3 top recommendations for us to live longer and healthier lives?
i) Enjoy eating but enjoy eating healthier foods with others
ii) Try to fit in a physical activity in your lifestyle. Its impact is immediate and it will increase the likelihood that you will still be mobile and able to function well and enjoy life in your later years.
iii) Enjoy nature with your loved ones – go to the countryside and enjoy the seaside!
6. The internet is full of health related websites. Should we trust this information and where can one get reliable information?
The internet has credible and less-credible sources. Government organisations, academic associations, universities, hospitals, health professional organisations and insurance companies are all very credible. These websites can guarantee accurate and up-to-date information. Such websites will also say when their information has been last updated and therefore one can see how recent the information is.
Commercial websites, such as those that want to sell their own products, can over-exaggerate and not give the full story. One has to always look with a critical eye.
7. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Honesty! Being truthful and putting across accurate information.
8. World Health Day is celebrated on 7th April, what tips would you give to our EPALE readers?
Take some time and take stock of the choices you are making in your life which are helping you to be healthier and those that are not helping you as much. Congratulate yourself for the positive ones. Try and pick one or two that are not helping you and try to change those into positive ones. Recognize one or two gaps so that you can make healthier choices now and the distant future.