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Read Your Way to Better Health

By Chris Privett | March 27, 2018 | Drivers of Health

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Want to help your kids turn into healthy adults? Make sure they become good readers.

That’s right. There’s a link between literacy and health. According to research by the National Institutes of Health, poor reading ability is likely to lead to poor health.

Reading is a healthy habit

If you have kids and don’t routinely read to them and with them, you have a great reason to start. March is National Reading Month, so this is the perfect time to pick up a new healthy habit. 

For Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina President and CEO Patrick Conway and his family, reading has always been part of the household routine. The Conway clan – mom, dad and four kids ranging in age from 2 to 9 years old – enjoy reading together every night before bedtime.

It’s a tradition that dates back to Conway’s own childhood.

“I would read at night with my parents when I was little, mostly with my Mom,” he recalls. “I remember one book from when I was young called ‘Bears on Wheels.’ My mother would read it to me before I was able to read myself, and I ended up memorizing it. I would pretend that I knew how to read by flipping through the pages and reciting the book. My older brother eventually exposed my scam by turning to a random page and covering up the picture, then demanding I read the text. Ah, brothers…”

Conway eventually moved from cycling bears to more sophisticated material: “As I got older, I went through phases: the classics, C.S. Lewis, John Irving, a lot of non-fiction. Now I read both fiction and non-fiction, a lot of books on business, health care, and leadership.”

Reading has a huge impact on children

Reading at bedtime is something all of the Conways look forward to.

“My wife and I read every night with each of our kids when they get into bed,” he says. “And now the older kids read to us. Our youngest daughters like anything with princesses or fairies, and the oldest two are into stories where kids are the heroes, like the Magic Tree House Kids series. We recently started reading the Harry Potter books together.”

For parents who haven’t taken up the habit of reading with their children, Conway, a practicing pediatrician, has some simple advice: “Just do it. Read to your kids every night if you can. There’s plenty of good evidence that reading, especially in our early years, has a huge positive impact on our intellectual abilities.”

Beyond the science of brain development, one of the health benefits of reading is the ability to understand and navigate the complexities of the health care system.  

“Our company is working to make health care simpler, but consumers will always have to be armed with information that will help them ask the right questions and make the right decisions for them and their families,” Conway says. “Reading ability is central to getting the most value out of health care.”

For information on North Carolina’s network of literacy councils and reading instruction resources across the state, visit the North Carolina Literacy Association’s website.  

[button link=””] Related: Read more from Patrick Conway, MD, MSc [/button]