include not only employers, but also community-based literacy programs and local governments seeking to attract employers that would be drawn to communities with a more literate workforce.
An additional approach to improving workforce literacy, including health literacy, could focus on science education in secondary schools and universities, where most students currently are taught basic science facts, rather than applied health sciences—and many students study little or no science at all. Indeed, data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that only 75 percent of U.S. high school students take more than one science course. While biology is the most popular science course offered in high school (i.e., most students select biology as their one science course), only about 1 in 6 takes an advanced course in biology (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). The result is that many, if not most, students, even some destined for a career in the health sciences, graduate from high schools without a substantive understanding of the anatomy, physiology, and etiology of common diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and cancer. Incorporating an applied “health literacy approach” into science education in schools and universities could have a major benefit for improving the health literacy of the nation’s workforce and for reducing health-care expenditures for employers (Table B-5).
There are many national-level organizations with missions dedicated to improving opportunities and quality of life for their constituents. Of note, some of these organizations advocate on behalf of the groups with the highest rates of limited literacy—the elderly, Hispanics, and African Americans—and these organizations could implement programs to improve their constituents’ health literacy (Table B-5). Although not discussed here, there are also advocacy groups on both local and national levels that represent the other high-risk groups, such as other ethnic minority groups, immigrants, the homeless, the poor, and prisoners.
The most well known, and perhaps the most important, senior citizens’ advocacy group is the American Association of Retired Persons (now known only by the acronym AARP)—which represents over 35 million older Americans (AARP, 2002). In addition to general advocacy on behalf of the nation’s elderly, AARP places particular emphasis on health and the cost of health care for senior citizens.
Given the very high rate of limited literacy among older individuals, and relationship of those limited literacy skills to health status, health-care