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Health Literacy: Prevalence of Low Health Literacy

Overview and practical approaches for healthcare providers

Health Literacy Barriers

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  • Key sociocultural divides that can complicate health communication efforts include differences in health beliefs, education levels, health literacy levels, access to communication channels, access and function needs (disabilities) to obtain and use information, digital literacy levels, as well as English language proficiency
     
  • People with limited English proficiency (LEP) are another important vulnerable group to consider when designing health communication strategies. In the US, in 2011, about 9% of people who spoke languages other than English at home were estimated to have LEP.

  • People with low socioeconomic status (SES) are also an important vulnerable group to consider when planning health communication. It can be difficult to capture the attention of low-SES at-risk groups with health messages because they are often dealing with many other pressing issues. This hinders audience exposure to health messages and is often a major roadblock to successfully disseminating health information


From Meeting Health Information Needs Outside Of Healthcare : opportunities and challenges / editors, Catherine Arnott Smith, Alla Keselman. Waltham, MA : Chandos Publishing, [2015], Chapter 1.2

Health Literacy Statistics

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  • In the United States,26% of the population has difficulty with common health tasks such as complying with directions of medication administration and appointment dates, filling out forms, and understanding health information.

  • Population-based data from the US National Assessment of Health Literacy (NAAL) estimate that about half of American adults have low health literacy skills and are likely to have difficulty understanding and acting on health information. In addition, only about 12% would have the “proficient” level skills required to make informed decisions about complex information related to managing diseases and choosing health insurance. Health literacy skills tend to be lower among people with lower education, lower income, and those who are members of a minority group and/or are age 65 or older
     
  • The average American adult is estimated to read between the seventh and ninth grade levels...Most studies have reported that readability of print health information materials is above the 10th grade, and college and graduate school levels are commonly found in more complex health information, including that which relates to health risks and taking medications.

  • Only about half of American adults seem to be able to understand enough from medication labels to know how to take their medication at the right time and at the right dose.
     
  • A study of 600 consent forms for medical procedures found that readability was at the college level —indicating that only about 5% of these forms could be understood by the average adult in the US people with limited health literacy are less likely to use preventive services and are more likely to have uncontrolled chronic conditions, take medications incorrectly, be hospitalized, report poor health status, and use costly health services. It is critically important to consider health literacy when developing communications for the lay public.

    From Meeting Health Information Needs Outside Of Healthcare : opportunities and challenges / editors, Catherine Arnott Smith, Alla Keselman. Waltham, MA : Chandos Publishing, [2015], Chapter 1.2