According to a study in the September issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, poor health literacy in people is responsible for poor health and mental conditions.
Besides basic reading skills, individuals need to be able to read and understand numerical information such as that on prescription bottles and be able to read and interpret document information such as appointment slips, to be able to call themselves health literate.
Researchers from Northwestern University, Chicago, had used data from a survey of 2,923 Medicare enrollees. In a one-hour in-person interview, individuals' physical and mental health statuses were assessed. Questions included medical history, alcohol and tobacco use and height and weight. Standardized mental and physical health test scores were determined. The average age of participants was 71 years.
Approximately one third of those surveyed had marginal (11 percent) or inadequate (22.2 percent) health literacy. Individuals with lower health literacy were more likely to have never smoked and to abstain from alcohol than individuals with adequate health literacy, the researchers report. Individuals with inadequate health literacy had significantly higher rates of certain chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, heart failure and arthritis. Individuals with inadequate health literacy were more likely to report activity limitations related to health, including activities of daily living and pain that "quite a bit" or "extremely" interfered with normal work activities.