The Importance of Health Literacy

A central talking point of all political campaigns is centered around healthcare. Politicians, lawmakers, and citizens globally continue to wrangle over the medical industry. Does it make sense debating about “medicine for the people” if more than a third of adults do not even have a proficient level of health literacy1?

Health Literacy StatisticWhat Does Health Literacy Mean?


We often only associate literacy with reading books or magazines, but there is so much more to it. Health literacy is measured as the degree to which an individual has the skills to comprehend and make informed choices based on the information given regarding their health.

Health illiteracy is prevalent in all ethnicities, sexualities, and genders. A person with health illiteracy cannot follow simple instructions. For example, they cannot read the side effects on a medicine bottle, understand a campaign about the risks of a drug overdose, or vaccination clinics advertised on posters.

How Does Health Illiteracy Affect Someone’s Life?


There are some skills involved when it comes to health care. A person should know how to calculate their BMI and blood sugar levels. Furthermore, reading nutrition labels and knowing the caloric count is crucial for a person with cardiac problems or diabetes. Unfortunately, more than 77 million people cannot understand such information2. Many do not understand what it means to have a healthy lifestyle, a lifestyle that promotes good habits and helps them flourish in the long-term.

health_literacy_2Additionally, traditional schools and colleges do not teach medical terminology to the average student, so having a diploma does not necessarily mean you are health literate. However, those illiterate in underdeveloped and developing nations- without schools or medical facilities- are at severe risk.

While flyers, posters, advertisements, and billboards may spread the word about the newest heart rate monitor available in town, there are a multitude of suffering humans who cannot get the care they need, all because they cannot read or understand the information given.

health-literacyThe Challenge Ahead


While patients continue to struggle, many medical physicians do not make an effort to solve the problem. A study by two professors at Northwestern University found that only 5% of doctors can accurately measure if a patient is health-literate or not and only 2% took the initiative to evaluate how well the patients could read2.

Change must be propagated. It can start from educating children, removing any discriminatory educational barriers, and changing the curriculum to inform people about health care.

The medical industry needs to inform patients accurately and elaborately, especially to those who cannot gather information themselves. Government officials, policymakers, citizens, and volunteers will have to come together to make a difference. Everyone deserves equal opportunities; lives are at stake. So next time, instead of thinking about which healthcare plan will be implemented in your country, consider donating or volunteering to help those who don’t even know what healthcare is.

Written by: Avanthika Panchapakesan


[1] https://health.gov/communication/literacy/issuebrief/

[2] https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/03/opinions/health-illiteracy-can-be-deadly-danilovich/index.html

[3] Image – https://upstream.mj.unc.edu/tag/health-literacy/