Consumer Health Informatics (CHI) is an area that is evolving so quickly that it takes a focused effort to keep current. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognized its relevance to our profession when it created the Consumer Health Informatics Work Group in 2011. Most of us initially think of CHI in terms of mobile applications, and
that’s certainly a big part of it. But a broader look at CHI deals with how the consumer accesses information about his or her health. In this day and age, that invariably means on the web. This could be a patient recently diagnosed with a chronic illness, a parent looking up information about food allergies on behalf of his or her child, or a healthy
adult wanting to maintain his or her state of wellness and simply seeking
accurate information on nutrition.
For CHI to be relevant to all consumers, though, web designers must take into account both health literacy and disabilities. Website content targeted at consumers must be written at a level that the average consumer can understand, and must be culturally-sensitive as well. Several tests can be applied to a website to gauge its ease of readability as well as the number of years of schooling an individual would need to have completed to comprehend most of the site’s information. One of these is Juicy Studio’s Readability Test. The average
American reads at an 8th or 9th grade level. By comparison, one of the readability indices
(Gunning-Fog) tells us that the Wall Street Journal’s content is at an 11th grade level, whereas Reader’s Digest reads at an 8th grade level.
There is also an entire area of study on disability informatics, with its recommendations for access based on mobility, sensory, and cognitive impairments. Websites like WebAIM (Web
Accessibility in Mind) detail important considerations such as always including captions with any videos (for a hearing-impaired viewer) or always including alternative text where non-text content exists (so a visually-impaired person can use a screen reader). Many of you
may already have your own nutrition-focused website or be planning to develop one. These are important considerations to keep in mind so that you are not inadvertently excluding anyone from accessing or understanding information on your site.
Look for upcoming blogs on CHI from members of the Academy's CHI Work Group.