well-being of millions of Americans … health literacy is the currency of success for everything I am doing as Surgeon General” (Carmona, 2003).

As the report also indicates, much more needs to be known about the causal pathways between education and health and the more specific role of literacy, as well as the discrete contribution of health literacy. As a result, we will then be in a position 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 envisage a society in which people have the skills that they need to obtain, interpret, and use health information effectively, and within which a wide variety of health systems and institutions take responsibility for providing clear communication and adequate support to facilitate health-promoting actions. Specifically, 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 into 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.

  • informed consent documents used in health care are developed so that all people can give or withhold consent based on information they need and understand.

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