OVAE: Office of Vocational and Adult Education
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Health Literacy in Adult Education

Research and Evaluation | Noteworthy Practices | Additional Links

Many adults with low levels of literacy skills have difficulty reading and understanding directions for taking medications, do not know how to complete medical consent forms, or cannot effectively deal with a variety of other health-related issues. Adult educators can partner with public health and healthcare professionals to ensure that health information and services can be understood and be used by all.

Research and Evaluation

  • The Health Literacy of America's Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy reports the results based on assessment tasks designed specifically to measure the health literacy of adults living in the United States. Relationships between health literacy and background variables (such as educational attainment, age, race/ethnicity, where adults get information about health issues, and health insurance coverage) also were examined and reported.
  • Healthy People 2020 is an initiative sponsored by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The initiative provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for promoting health and preventing disease. In its Healthy People 2010 report, HHS included improved consumer health literacy as Objective 11-2 and identified health literacy as an important component of health communication.
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Literacy develops and disseminates a wealth of scientifically-based accessible resources including print materials and Podcasts that adult educators can use to plan and implement health literacy curricula and lessons.

Noteworthy Practices

  • The Health Literacy discussion list of the National Institute for Literacy's LINCS (Literacy Information and Communications System) is one of many online discussion groups. Archives for Health Literacy can be accessed without joining the discussion group. There is a registration form that must be submitted, however, in order to participate in the discussion group.
  • Ask Me 3 is sponsored by the Partnership for Clear Health Communication at the National Patient Safety Foundation. The goal is to encourage patients to ask their doctors three simple questions. It includes materials that introduce questions, as well as information for health providers on health literacy.

Additional Links

  • The September 2008 special issue[PDF, 3.54MB] of Focus on Basics, published by the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) focuses specifically on health literacy.
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  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion's publication, The Quick Guide to Health Literacy, is for those working in healthcare and public health fields. It's divided into three sections: a series of fact sheets on health literacy, practical strategies for improving health literacy, and a list of resources , including Web sites, research studies, and additional publications on health literacy.
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  • Prescription for Confusion: Health Literacy & Drug Warning Labels[MSPowerPoint, 5MB] is a PowerPoint presentation, sponsored by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA). It describes why patients, especially those with low levels of literacy, find prescription labels difficult to understand. One segment of the presentation describes the difficulties in reading labels because the industry has not standardized them.
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  • The American Association for Retired People (AARP) has compiled lists of helpful suggestions that adults of all ages can use with their caregivers: a Personal Medication List, At the Doctor's Office, At the Pharmacy, and At Home.

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Last Modified: 09/17/2009