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Health Literacy

Health literacy is defined as: "The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions".

Studies show that people who understand health instructions make fewer mistakes when they take their medicine or prepare for a medical procedure. They may also get well sooner or be able to better manage a chronic health condition.


Health literacy includes the ability to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, appointment slips, medical education brochures, doctor's directions and consent forms, and the ability to negotiate complex health care systems. Health literacy is not simply the ability to read. It requires a complex group of reading, listening, analytical, and decision-making skills, and the ability to apply these skills to health situations.


Health literacy varies by context and setting and is not necessarily related to years of education or general reading ability. A person who functions adequately at home or work may have marginal or inadequate literacy in a health care environment. With the move towards a more "consumer-centric" health care system as part of an overall effort to improve the quality of health care and to reduce health care costs, individuals need to take an even more active role in health care related decisions. To accomplish this people need strong health information skills.

There is a new CDC web site that provides health literacy information and tools at http://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/.  

The CDC has also developed a Health Literacy Blog. The purpose of the blog is to stimulate ideas for new work in public health and health literacy, build relationships and community, and discuss our successes and challenges in real time. Click here to learn more. 

Here is what the American Medical Association has to say about Health Literacy. 

The Ask Me 3 program uses three simple question that help patients get the information they need from their physicians -

1. What is my main problem?
2. What do I need to do?
3. Why is it important for me to do this?

For more information on the Ask Me 3 program or to download printable material, visit the National Patient Safety Foundation.


Some additional information can be found at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration or the Missouri Health Literacy site.


We are excited to share with you the launch of the "health literacy for public health professionals" training program for health professionals.

To download a Health Literacy Plain Language and Resource Guide, visit Health Literacy Innovations.com.

2B Yoo has a website http://www.yoomagazine.net/ that teaches health literacy using an interactive, internet based application in a magazine format which offers universal access to standardized, professionally reviewed, health information.


CDC Offers Online Health Literacy Training for Health Professionals

To help public health professionals respond to limited health literacy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a free online training program: Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals.
PHPartners http://phpartners.org/

Health Literate Bulletin Boards

Click on the following links to see our health literate bulletin boards.



Heart Healthy


Oral Health

Physical Activity

Quality Improvement


Tobacco Cessation


General Public Health


Smart Shopping

Family Mealtime

Food Labels