Definition of Health Literacy

Definition of Health LiteracyHealth Literacy* represents the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health.

Health literacy implies the achievement of a level of knowledge, personal skills and confidence to take action to improve personal and community health by changing personal lifestyles and living conditions. Thus, health literacy means more than being able to read pamphlets and make appointments.

By improving people’s access to health information, and their capacity to use it effectively, health literacy is critical to empowerment. Health literacy is itself dependent upon more general levels of literacy. Poor literacy can affect people’s health directly by limiting their personal, social and cultural development, as well as hindering the development of health literacy.

Source: World Health Organization (WHO) (1998) Division of Health Promotion, Education and Communications Health Education and Health Promotion Unit. Health Promotion Glossary. World Health Organization, Geneva PDF