Defining Health Literacy

There are many definitions of health literacy (HL)… an applied linguist’s dream! But for the patient or provider, the policy-maker, the community organizer, this can be a very serious problem. Why?  there is a lot of confusion between ‘health education’, ‘health promotion’, ‘health communication’ and health literacy. Actually they are all intricately part of health literacy. There are several articles and links to how to actively advance health literacy in the 21st century. Ultimately if communities and countries have high health literacy they have better health outcomes and hopefully use less public resources which means lowering of costs for the taxpayer!

There are favorite definitions and issues to review relating to HL:

  • World Health organization HL definition
  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention HL definition
  • The Center for Health Literacy Promotion definition
  • The expanded definition of health literacy (Zarcadoolas, Pleasant, & Greer, 2005)
  • The HLS-EU consortium definition 
  • In countries like the U.S. institutions like the public libraries and museums are actively taking part in increasing health literacy
  • My own simple ‘visual’ through the eyes of the donkey….
    • The donkey comes with its own inborn and environmentally reinforced guidelines of what to do, where to go, who its ‘social support’ system is (the caretaker and other similar beings), and let’s assume he/she has some basic scientific knowledge Donkeys_Hydraof how to care for any health issues (non-translation to human terms of course… anyone speak donkey language?) and how to access care as needed
    • Since this is a Greek donkey we assume it has its own cultural literacy influences, though he/she has not been given a reading test lately we will assume he/she has a basic fundamental literacy level as well
    • Then there are his/her ‘rights’ and their voluntary work or shall we say the civic literacy
    • Of course if business is good, the donkey has better meals, is treated better, his species is better promoted, and overall the caretaker’s financial literacy allow for all of that to be figured out! If no tourists are coming to the island due to lack of transportation, too high taxation, disease, etc. then we might have a problem or two… keeping in mind that the caretakers themselves need to know a bit about caring for animals as this is a benefit to them overall (think S.M.A.R.T.), and of course our own education about the donkey’s needs and abilities.
    • Ultimately ALL of these literacies are part of the overall health literacy saddle that the donkey carries with him during the day… how this is handled may depend on the rider, the load, and the destination.  Good luck my friend!

14 thoughts on “Defining Health Literacy

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