What is health literacy?
Health literacy is the term used to describe people’s ability to access, understand, appraise and communicate information in relation to health and diseases. People with sufficient health literacy are able to understand health information, to discuss their needs and demands with healthcare professionals, and to take the right decisions to stay healthy and manage health conditions. Health literacy is an asset that can enrich people’s lives and help people take better decisions about their own health and well-being. More information and background on the definition and concepts of health literacy, can be found here.
Health literacy is a dynamic concept
Many of us find it difficult to cope with the demands of stressful health situations. Even if you wish to take an active role in your own situation, it can be hard to understand the information about your medical problems or to discuss your needs with healthcare professionals. Health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced literacy skills. Health literacy can be seen as a dynamic concept: when you are seriously or chronically ill this can be even more challenging because you need to take more complicated decisions than when you are healthy. Emotional, physical or mental problems can also have an effect on health literacy and our ability to manage our own health.
Citate (anonymous): ‘Then the doctor’s lack of clarity has a huger impact than the illness itself. You suffer twice, because you are dealing with something you don’t know nothing about.’
Health literacy is relevant for us, even when we are not personally affected. As relatives, neighbours and friends, or as healthcare workers or other professionals we can play a role in strengthening people’s health literacy capacities.
Why does health literacy matter?
Health literacy is linked to higher life expectancy, better health and fewer chronic illnesses. It is also associated with more effective and efficient use of health services. Health literacy is a bigger challenge for older people, who have to cope with more health problems than younger people and are facing more physical, mental and social challenges due to ageing. Health literacy is also a bigger challenge for those of us with lower levels of education or income or coming from migrant or minority groups. Improving health literacy can contribute to an inclusive and more equitable society.
Improving health literacy improves healthy ageing
Improving health literacy will enhance people’s capacities to take decisions concerning their own health, assume an active role in their care and manage health and illness well. It will result in people living longer in good health. This increases our capacity to lead active lives and reduces the burden of ill health and chronic diseases.
- Kickbusch I et al. Health Literacy, the solid facts, WHO-Europe. Download PDF here