Being an informed consumer of health information requires
more than reading ability. People with limited health
literacy often lack knowledge or have misinformation
about the body and the causes of disease. Without this
knowledge, they may fail to understand the relationship
between lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and
health outcomes. People with limited health literacy
skills may not know when or how to seek care.
Health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced
literacy skills. Medical science progresses rapidly.
What people may have learned about health or biology
during their school years often becomes outdated, forgotten,
or is incomplete. Moreover, health information provided
in a stressful or unfamiliar situation is unlikely to
Strategies to build knowledge and improve health decisionmaking
Improve access to accurate and appropriate health
Facilitate healthy decisionmaking
Partner with educators to improve health curricula
Improve access to accurate and appropriate health information
Create mechanisms for sharing and distributing plain
language materials among health professionals.
Healthcare and public health professionals can develop
plain language health education materials that can be
easily shared among practitioners. Health education materials
should be both scientifically accurate and culturally
appropriate. Develop partnerships among and across regions,
audiences, and fields of interest to facilitate dissemination.
Health professionals and researchers may want to examine
the impact of participatory action and empowerment research
strategies for effective diffusion of health information
at the community level.1
Work with the media.
Working with the media to improve health literacy involves:
Increasing the media's awareness of
health literacy issues. Many health stories
already have a health literacy angle, but it goes
Making scientific and medical information
easier to understand. Be sure the information
you give journalists is written in plain language
and is suitable for a public audience. When you are
working with journalists, emphasize that the provision
of health information, especially when it fosters
stress and anxiety in the public, does not by itself
promote public understanding.
Develop new methods for information dissemination.
Health information seeking on the Internet demonstrates
the public's interest in finding health information
someplace other than brochures. Personal electronic devices
(e.g., cell phones, palm pilots) and talking kiosks could
be new methods for delivering health information. Before
you create another brochure, consider whether alternate
methods for information dissemination could improve communication
with your intended users.
Channels are the routes of message delivery (such
as individual, group, organizational, community,
and mass media). Select channels that fit your
communication objectives, your budget, and your
For more information, refer to CDCynergy.
Research suggests that more information does not necessarily
improve decisionmaking and often may undermine it.2
People process and use a limited amount of information
when making a decision. As the choice becomes more complex,
people adopt simplifying strategies that allow them to
consider only some of the information. As a result, they
may ignore or limit their search for information.
We know that obtaining accurate, appropriate health
information is only one element of healthy decisionmaking.
Increased self-efficacy, that is, a person's belief
in his or her ability to accomplish a desired task, is
a key factor in decisionmaking.3
A high self-efficacy for a task may mean that a person
is more likely to try it. The way we “package”
health information and services can greatly increase
What you can do:
Use short documents that present “bottom-line”
information, step-by-step instructions, and visual
cues that highlight the most important information.
Align health information and recommendations with
access to services, resources, and support.
with educators to improve health curricula
Codevelop adult basic education lessons on health content.
Adult education includes the instruction of people
16 years of age and older who are not regularly enrolled
full-time students. Instruction includes reading, writing,
arithmetic, and other skills required to function in
society. Health professionals can work with adult educators
to identify the specific skills needed to support health
Adult education theory maintains that people want information
that is relevant to their lives. According to national
surveys, health-related content is likely to engage adult
Health professionals can partner with adult educators
to develop and deliver health lessons, which simultaneously
builds health knowledge and reaches adults who may not
connect with traditional health outreach methods. Construct
lessons in which students use health-related texts like
prescription labels, consent forms, health history forms,
and health content from the Internet.
Partner with K–12 educators to improve health
education in schools.
The U.S. educational system is a critical point of intervention
to improve health literacy.1
Educators can take advantage of existing skill development
and curricula to incorporate health-related tasks, materials,
and examples into lesson plans. Many states already have
standards for health education that can be enriched to
incorporate health literacy skills.
Health professionals can support educators by speaking
to elementary and secondary students or helping to organize
health-related field trips with local schools.
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