Senior Health

Why We Owe Barbara Bush a Big Thank You for Our Health

Former first lady Barbara Bush died Tuesday evening, April 17, 2018. The mother of six was only the second woman in history to be a wife and mother of a U.S. president. She was 92-years-old.

She was a major advocate for early and adult literacy, a passion that was fueled by tirelessly helping one of her son’s battle dyslexia.

And what people may not realize is that Barbara Bush’s fight for national literacy may be construed as also a fight for healthcare.


Because without the ability to read, we would have difficulty obtaining credible information about our health. And as a result, it would be difficult to live our healthiest and happiest lives.

“Low literacy is associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes, including increased mortality, hospitalization, and in some cases poorer control of chronic health conditions,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“One of the most commonly postulated direct pathways that may explain the association between literacy and adverse health outcomes involves the potential limitations in self-care skills among patients with low literacy.”

In order to acquire skills about self-care, you often have to read complex information. Patients with low literacy may even have trouble identifying medication by name. And think about how tough it would be if you could not read instructions for your prescription.

More recently, one story disclosed how marketers may be targeting poor, illiterate people with unhealthy food ads.

“Advertisers use persuasive techniques to entice vulnerable viewers who can’t make informed decisions about the products they buy” according to the report.

The report details a study of different groups in South Africa who were exposed to food advertising in magazines.

“In South Africa the most vulnerable populations are children, women and the poorer black populations. These groups are largely illiterate, ill-informed about health issues and do not have the money to access health information, health care and healthy food.”

“We found that more than half of the adverts in magazines that primarily target poor, black people were for unhealthy and starchy foods. Affluent, non-black groups were shown slimming foods and dietary supplements. Adverts also made false claims about foods being healthy.”

And the same thing may be occurring in the United States.

According to this NIH report, “Outdoor ads for unhealthy products of all types, including cigarettes and alcohol, are more likely to be in areas with a higher proportion of minorities and low-income individuals.”

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy says that around 32 million adults in the United States cannot read.

“Populations most likely to experience low health literacy are older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, people with less than a high school degree or GED certificate, people with low income levels, non-native speakers of English, and people with compromised health status,” reports

“Education, language, culture, access to resources, and age are all factors that affect a person’s health literacy skills.”

So a fight for literacy is also a fight for equal healthcare. As consumers, we have to be able to read and make intelligent decisions when it comes to our nutrition and healthcare.

The day prior to her passing, a statement from the office of George H.W. Bush read: “Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors, Mrs. Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care.”

Clearly, Bush had educated herself about the various healthcare options she had and made an informed decision to choose comfort care. This type of care is all about improving the patient’s quality of life and managing their symptoms before they die.

We recently discussed this type of care in our earlier discussion of palliative care.

In order to understand this type of care, one doctor explained that for heart failure patients this “usually means opting not to use a breathing machine or CPR. But patients do continue to receive medical treatment, including morphine to ease shortness of breath, and diuretics to remove excess fluid from their lungs.”

Some have applauded the Bush family for bringing attention to comfort care, while others feel it is kind of like “giving up.” It’s a controversial topic, but it is important to know what the options are when it comes to end of life care.

One of the biggest misconceptions about comfort care may be that the patient is simply not receiving treatment. This is incorrect. The patient is being treated but not with the goal of keeping him or her alive. At that point, it is accepted that the patient may not have a long time to live and the goal is to make sure the patient passes in as peaceful of a manner as possible.

Although it is very sad that she is gone, Barbara Bush lived a long life and it is good she is no longer suffering. And we thank her for her fight for literacy as we continue to work to live our healthiest lives for as long as possible. 

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (, a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.

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