Why is Health Literacy Important?
There is no information on levels of Health Literacy (HL) in England. We do, however, know that England has low levels of basic general literacy and numeracy. The Skills for Life Survey (1) showed that 46% of participants (equivalent to 17.8 million people in England) scored at a literacy level below that required to achieve their full potential, with 3% (=1.1 million people) at the very lowest level, being functionally illiterate. The figures are even worse for numeracy with 75% (= 23.8 million people) scoring at a level below that required to achieve their full potential with 5% (=1.7 million people) being functionally innumerate. It is, therefore, very likely that levels of Health Literacy and Numeracy are similarly low, and that for many people low HL acts as a significant barrier to achieving and maintaining good health.
Research from the US shows that people with low Health Literacy have less understanding about their health (2) poorer health (3,4) and higher mortality (5) than people with adequate Health Literacy.
The Department of Health (England) recognises the likely importance of low HL as a barrier to health in England; it is a key part of the new Health Inequalities strategy. Our group is committed to working to provide evidence to understanding more about the impact of low HL and ways to reduce that impact on peoples’ health.
1. Williams J, Clemens S, Oleinikova K, Tarvin K. The skills for life survey. A national needs and impact survey of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. London: Department for Education and Skills (UK); 2003 Contract No.: Document Number|.
2. Williams MV, Baker DW, Parker RM, Nurss JR. Relationship of functional health literacy to patients' knowledge of their chronic disease. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(2):166-72.
3. Rothman R, Malone R, Bryant B, DeWalt D, Pignone M. Health literacy and diabetic control. JAMA. 2002/12/4;288(21):2687-8.
4. Sudore RL, Mehta KM, Simonsick EM, Harris TB, Newman AB, Satterfield S, et al. Limited literacy in older people and disparities in health and healthcare access. JAmGeriatrSoc. 2006/5;54(5):770-6.
5. Baker DW, Wolf MS, Feinglass J, Thompson JA, Gazmararian JA, Huang J. Health literacy and mortality among elderly persons. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2007;167(14):1503-9.