2015 Volume 42 Issue 4 Pages 450-456
Objective This paper provides an overview of current research and debate about the definition and measurement of health literacy, and the use of different health education methods to improve health literacy in populations.
Definition and measurement Health literacy describes a person’s ability to perform knowledge-based literacy tasks (understanding and using information) that are required to make health related decisions in a variety of different situations. These cognitive and social skills are content and context specific, and are greatly influenced by a person’s age and stage in life. In these circumstances, developing a “universal” population measure of health literacy has been very difficult.
Improving health literacy Health literacy can be improved through education and can be regarded as a measurable outcome to health education. As with all forms of education, significant differences in educational methods, media and content will result in different learning outcomes. Improving health literacy involves both the transmission of health information, and support to develop confidence to act on that knowledge. This will best be achieved through more personal forms of communication, and through community based educational outreach.
Conclusions Applying the concept of health literacy in this way will support more comprehensive options for health improvement, disease prevention and more successful disease self-management among individuals with established illness. However, these approaches are less well tested through systematic research than work in clinical settings and further research is needed to develop the empirical basis for the concept.