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September 22/29, 2015

The Arc of Health Literacy

Author Affiliations
  • 1Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2015;314(12):1225-1226. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.9978

It is a troubling paradox. In the midst of rapid expansion of medical knowledge intended to benefit many, too few actually understand medical information well enough to improve their health. A landmark 2006 report notes that only about 12% of US adults had a proficient state of health literacy whereby “individuals can obtain, process and understand the basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.”1 Furthermore, the 2011 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (the third wave of adult literacy assessments conducted among 23 industrialized nations) indicates continuing issues: US adults scored below the international average for literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments.2

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