National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy

Summary

This National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy seeks to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families in a linked, multisector effort to improve health literacy. The plan is based on the principles that (1) everyone has the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions and (2) health services should be delivered in ways that are understandable and beneficial to health, longevity, and quality of life. The vision informing this plan is of a society that:

  • Provides everyone with access to accurate and actionable health information
  • Delivers person-centered health information and services
  • Supports lifelong learning and skills to promote good health

Two decades of research indicate that today's health information is presented in a way that isn't usable by most Americans. Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our health care facilities, retail outlets, media, and communities.1, 2, 3 Without clear information and an understanding of prevention and self-management of conditions, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests. They also end up in the emergency room more often, and they have a hard time managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.1

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.4 Limited health literacy affects people of all ages, races, incomes, and education levels, but the impact of limited health literacy disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic and minority groups. It affects people's ability to search for and use health information, adopt healthy behaviors, and act on important public health alerts. Limited health literacy is also associated with worse health outcomes and higher costs.5

This report contains seven goals that will improve health literacy and suggests strategies for achieving them:

  1. Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable
  2. Promote changes in the health care system that improve health information, communication, informed decisionmaking, and access to health services
  3. Incorporate accurate, standards-based, and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in child care and education through the university level
  4. Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English language instruction, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community
  5. Build partnerships, develop guidance, and change policies
  6. Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy
  7. Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions

Many of the strategies highlight actions that particular organizations or professions can take to further these goals. It will take everyone working together in a linked and coordinated manner to improve access to accurate and actionable health information and usable health services. By focusing on health literacy issues and working together, we can improve the accessibility, quality, and safety of health care; reduce costs; and improve the health and quality of life of millions of people in the United States.

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Suggested citation:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2010). National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. Washington, DC: Author.

Press Release: HHS Announces National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy

Footnotes

1 Nielsen-Bohlman, L., Panzer, A. M., & Kindig, D. A. (Eds.). (2004). Health literacy: A prescription to end confusion. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

2 Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., Jin, Y., & Paulsen, C. (2006). The health literacy of America's adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2006-483). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

3 Rudd, R. E., Anderson, J. E., Oppenheimer, S., & Nath, C. (2007). Health literacy: An update of public health and medical literature. In J. P. Comings, B. Garner, & C. Smith. (Eds.), Review of adult learning and literacy (vol. 7) (pp 175–204). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Healthy People 2010 (2nd ed.) [with Understanding and Improving Health (vol. 1) and Objectives for Improving Health (vol. 2)]. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

5 Berkman, N. D., DeWalt, D. A., Pignone, M. P., Sheridan, S. L., Lohr, K. N., Lux, L., et al. (2004). Literacy and health outcomes (AHRQ Publication No. 04-E007-2). Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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