tions. This is supported by the conclusions and statements of others. Health literacy was one of two cross-cutting factors that affect health care identified by the IOM in its recent report Priority Areas for National Action in Quality Improvement (IOM, 2003b). The Surgeon General recently stated that “health literacy can save lives, save money, and improve the health and well being of millions of Americans … health literacy is the currency of success for everything I am doing as Surgeon General” (Carmona, 2003).

More needs to be known about the causal pathways between education and health, the role of literacy, and the discrete contribution of health literacy to health. With this knowledge we will be able to understand which interventions and approaches are the most appropriate and effective. This Committee believes that a health-literate America is an achievable goal. We envision a society within which people have the skills they need to obtain, interpret, and use health information appropriately and in meaningful ways. We envision a society in which a variety of health systems structures and institutions take responsibility for providing clear communication and adequate support to facilitate health-promoting actions based on understanding. We believe a health-literate America would be a society in which:

  • Everyone has the opportunity to improve their health literacy.

  • Everyone has the opportunity to use reliable, understandable information that could make a difference in their overall well-being, including everyday behaviors such as how they eat, whether they exercise, and whether they get checkups.

  • Health and science content would be basic parts of K-12 curricula.

  • People are able to accurately assess the credibility of health information presented by health advocate, commercial, and new media sources.

  • There is monitoring and accountability for health literacy policies and practices.

  • Public health alerts, vital to the health of the nation, are presented in everyday terms so that people can take needed action.

  • The cultural contexts of diverse peoples, including those from various cultural groups and non-English-speaking peoples, are integrated in to all health information.

  • Health practitioners communicate clearly during all interactions with their patients, using everyday vocabulary.

  • There is ample time for discussions between patients and healthcare providers.

  • Patients feel free and comfortable to ask questions as part of the healing relationship.

  • Rights and responsibilities in relation to health and health care are presented or written in clear, everyday terms so that people can take needed action.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement