Health literacy includes all of the skills you use to manage your health and navigate the healthcare system. It also includes the steps that organizations take to make health information and services accessible to you. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updated the health literacy definition in 2020 to include two types:
The most recent national assessment of health literacy in the US was the National Assessment of Adult Literacy in 2003. The assessment found that 14% of adults had below basic literacy levels; meaning, at most, 30 million US adults are only able to understand a short set of instructions before a medical test.
|Health Literacy Level||Task Examples||Percentage|
|Proficient||Using a table, calculate an employees share of health insurance costs for a year.||12%|
|Intermediate||Read instructions on a prescription label, and determine what time a person can take the medication.||53%|
|Basic||Read a pamphlet, and give two reasons a person with no symptoms should be tested for a disease.||21%|
|Below Basic||Read a set of short instructions, and identify what is permissible to drink before a medical test.||14%|
Health literacy and culturally competent care and education are closely linked. The graphs below show the racial breakdown of the 2003 results.
ALT Text: Graph from America's Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information depicts adult health literacy results from the 2003 study by racial/ethnic groups. Pie chart from America's Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information depicts percentage of adults from the 2003 study at the below basic health literacy level, by race/ethnicity.
Lower health literacy levels are associated with poorer health outcomes including more frequent emergent care visits and poor chronic health management.
Use any of the links below to learn more about health literacy in the US