Health literacy

‘Health literacy’ means people’s ability to find and understand basic information about their health and health services, so they can make good decisions about their health.

Limited health literacy is an issue Australia-wide. In 2006, 59% of Australians were found to have inadequate health literacy. Limited health literacy is disproportionally found in older adults, those with lower levels of education, as well as in lower socioeconomic and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

In 2009, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that only 33% of people born overseas had adequate or better health literacy, compared to 43% of the Australian-born population. This figure dropped to 27% for those who had arrived in Australia in the previous five years and to 26% for people whose first language was not English.

People with inadequate health literacy have limited ability to search for and use health information, make informed decisions about their health, or maintain basic health. Research demonstrates that there are strong correlations between low health literacy and limited English proficiency, and poorer health behaviours, poorer self management of chronic conditions, higher rates of hospitalisation, difficulty communicating with providers, and poorer health status in general. Research also indicates that increasing health literacy is likely to reduce health costs through the prevention of illness and chronic disease.

More information and resources about health literacy can be found in the ACT Health Library Multicultural Health LibGuide. (Some LibGuide content is only available to ACT Health staff and other users with a subscription.)