USA’s Health Literacy

July 28, 2008

“The NAAL defines health literacy as the ability of US adults to use printed and written health-related information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

“Generally, adults reporting better health achieved higher average health literacy scores. About 42% of adults reporting poor health scored at the Below Basic level and 27% of them scored at the Basic level.”

Assessing the Nation’s Health Literacy
Key concepts and findings of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
Sheida White, PhD


So, in this study, out of all the people who reported “poor health” (as compared to fair, good, very good, and excellent health) 69% are reading at Below Basic or Basic reading levels. According to this study, 77 million adults in the USA have basic or below basic health literacy levels! This is compared to the 139 million US American adults that have intermediate or excellent health literacy levels.

Of course, these numbers and correlations are not surprising to us in the Adult Literacy community. However, this is an important study to shed light on this issue for the rest of the world. For me, it comes down to this: if adults cannot read, the health and well-being of their lives, and their family member’s lives, is significantly sacrificed!


And, if the health of your neighbors isn’t enough to convince you, then how about dollars?

“Pfizer has put out a study today with a very scary number. $236 billion. That’s the high end of their estimate for what a lack of health literacy costs the U.S. every year. The lower, more-often reported number, is $106 billion. A year.” (from Dan Blankenhorn)


This is yet another reason to support your local literacy programs! Go out volunteer, donate, advocate! By helping one person learn to read, you improve their health, and one at a time, our nation’s health.



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