Definition of health literacy

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1. Definition of health literacy

NHS Scotland, within the Making it Easy action plan states:

A quote from the Scottish Government Making it Easy action plan which says

Making it easy

The World Health Organisation describes health literacy as:

WHO quote


1. Scottish Government, Making it Easy, A Health Literacy Action Plan for Scotland 

2. World Health Organisation, Regional Office for South-East Asia (2015)

2. Why health literacy matters

People need good health literacy skills to: manage health conditions such as diabetes; follow medication instructions; understand test results; communicate health symptoms to health professionals; understand appointed letters or hospital signage; participate in health discussions and decision making about their health

3. The language of health

This video highlights how confusing health terminology can be.

4. The health literacy gap
5. Literacy skills gap

The literacy skills gap: average reading age in the UK is 9-11 years old; Up to 1 million people cannot speak English well or at all; 50% of hte population are at or below primary school numeracy level

6. Digital literacy

Increasingly people need digital skills to: access health and social care information online, book health appointments online, use video consultation tools such as Near Me, Knowl how to avoid fake news and scams

7. Functional literacy

Functional literacy is a person's ability to read, write or do a maths calculation to perform every day taks.  Research shows that 43% of adults do not have adequate literacy to understand health information.  This rises to 61% when numeracy skills are also needed.

8. The 3L's

A person's health literacy is impacted by their digital literacy and their functional literacy

3Ls are health literacy, functional literacy and digital literacy

9. Who is at risk of low health literacy?

Who is at risk? Some groups of people may be at more risk of low health literacy for example: people with learning disabilities or autism; people whose first language is not English, older adults, people with low levels of education, people in low socioeconomic groups.

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