Health Literacy

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

As a public health graduate student, I've read a lot of literature reviews and research articles that stem into global health care initiatives directed at overcoming barriers of health, globally improving health outcomes, an international system that measures overall health via fundamental indicators of individual health, health literacy, health communication, an international system of health record keeping (international databases), innovative technologies and global efforts (via short term and long term international health goals) that aims to improve population health. As technology continues to accelerate the advancement of public health, the evaluation of these health improvements leads us question the fundamental concepts of health communication and the transmission of health information. In an article, Health Literacy: Communication for the Public Good, I was faced a few questions:

-“How can we expect population health to improve if the population we are dealing with is not literate in health?”

-“How can we expect individuals to become autonomous with their health, if individuals rely on fragmented health care system that doesn’t promote autonomous healthy living?”

-“How can we take our combat with population health onto a global scale, when we our health care system (in the US) is a competing multi-payer system with different levels of complexities -and municipal determinants of health?”

-What is the true definition and meaning of health?”, “How do we measure an individual’s health competence and health literacy?”, “How can we measure an individual’s health?”

Collaborating with participating multi-stakeholders in the implementation of any health advancement (especially advancements in health literacy, health communication and measurements of health) is a strategy that has consistently been highlighted throughout this video, as a necessity when tackling global challenges, but the main focus is health literacy.

In the US, the state level of government essentially has the most power to control municipal determinants of health via public institutions that make collective decisions. State policy makers and stakeholders should be aware of the serious impact health literacy has on health communication (with health illiteracy contributing to undesirable health outcomes) and bridge concept linking knowledge and practice healthy literacy, before assembling resources and health policies that affect social, economic, and environmental determinants of public health. State departments, policy makers and stakeholders need to adopt health literacy as a fundamental concept of public health and incorporate it as an ecological parameter of health promotion (from medical institutions to health communications via patient-provider interactions) through effective communication. This can facilitate the process of staying healthy, getting better and living with disease by linking medical terminology of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention with determinants of health, ex: social, physical and environmental, education and income and vulnerability/risk factors.

Health Literacy: Communication for the Public Good, highlights health literacy and health communication as an essential component of public health, from proximal interventions to distal determinants of health, that ultimately stems into global civil society. Health literacy, termed in a 1974 was defined as “health education meeting minimal standards for all school grade levels” (Sidmonds, 1974). Recently, health literacy has been depicted as both ‘a goal and an outcome, becoming the currency and capital needed to develop and sustain health’ (Nutbeam, 2000).

The development of health literacy using strategic communication via formulative research is also clarified as translating evidence based medical discoveries into a healthier society. Strategic, science-based communications can advance social norms that encompass appropriate health promotion activities, policies, personal responsibilities, government roles and services and finally baseline health knowledge and skills. “The communication should not be lost in the technology, it means getting the right message to the right people at the right time, with the intended effect.” In conclusion, to attain health literacy, policy makers and leaders outside of the health sector must be aware of the critical elements that contribute to health illiteracy. Framing such issues can mobilize forces from those outside the traditional health policy to truly develop health, ultimately affecting the social, economic and environmental determinants of health.


1. Ratzan S (2001). Health Literacy: Communication for the Public Good. Health Promotion International, 16(2): 207-214.

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