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Reproductive Health Literacy Trends Down as Post-Dobbs Ruling Unfolds

Sixty percent of women rely on search engines and online forums for reproductive health literacy, exposing a significant patient education gap following the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

While women’s need for better reproductive health understanding is imperative, a recent survey highlights significant shortfalls in health literacy.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade, removing abortion as a constitutional right, has left a reproductive health ripple effect throughout the United States.

After the Dobbs decision, women face numerous reproductive health barriers as clinics close, fear of prosecution looms for doctors and women, the education system limits reproductive health education, and access to credible knowledge sources diminishes, survey authors noted.

According to a survey conducted by Cint on behalf of Flo, two-thirds of women seek knowledge online, relying on search engines, online forums, and social media.

Meanwhile, misinformation about women's health topics has bloomed on social media, adding fuel to the health literacy fire. Studies have indicated that the spread of misinformation can impact patients’ ability to discern accurate information from falsehoods.

Social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook have alarmingly high rates of medical misinformation, and they move fast, spreading 1,000 times farther and 20 times more quickly than the truth, the survey authors explained.

While patients may not always search in the right areas, there is a strong desire to enhance their knowledge of women's health. A striking 70 percent of respondents aged 18 to 44 intended to expand their understanding of women's health.

The issue of poor health literacy is more reflective of shortcomings in public health and school-based education systems than female patients themselves. The findings revealed that 45 percent of women admit to learning more about women's health from social media than from their school education.

This figure rose even higher to 63 percent among women aged 18 to 24. Consequently, social media has emerged as a stand-in health educator, providing more information and insights than traditional sources, researchers stated.

Furthermore, 36 percent of women (amounting to 28.5 million) initially learned about pregnancy causes and prevention from a parental figure, while 31 percent learned through health classes.

Lack of adequate reproductive health education can have detrimental effects on health and well-being, the researchers added.

Yet, many children in the US only receive patient education for periods after they've started menstruating. Researchers revealed that only 21 percent of elementary schools currently offer puberty education.

In this landscape, many women fall prey to misconceptions regarding reproductive health, the authors contended.

For instance, 16 percent of women were either confused or unsure about how STIs can be contracted, and 56 percent of women are currently not using any form of contraception.

According to the survey, over half of women were uninformed about the number of fertile days they have in a month.

For 30 percent of women, their first exposure to menstruation was when they experienced their period. Similarly, 54 percent of women were unaware of premenstrual syndrome. An astounding 9.5 million women lacked an understanding about any menstrual cycle phases.

Nearly two-thirds of women were either unfamiliar with or had never heard of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), one of the most common causes of female infertility.

In the same vein, 50 percent of women were unfamiliar with endometriosis, even though it affects 10 percent of the female population in the United States.

While the survey did not mention any specific ways to address poor health literacy and reproductive health misinformation, there are strategies that could be employed. For instance, public health agencies can collaborate with community health organizations and partners to gradually dispel common misconceptions and address issues related to health literacy.

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