Health literacy among Spanish-speaking Latino parents with limited English proficiency

Ambul Pediatr. 2005 Jan-Feb;5(1):56-9. doi: 10.1367/A04-093R.1.


Background: Health literacy measures the degree to which individuals understand health information. It has not been studied among parents with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Objective: We aimed to determine how well Spanish-speaking Latino parents with LEP understood the written instructions accompanying a routinely prescribed medication.

Design and methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey of parents of young children. We showed subjects a medicine bottle with an English prescription label and a Spanish drug information sheet (DIS). Subjects demonstrated how much medicine they would give and stated how often they would give it (Medication Dosing). Then they answered 5 questions regarding information from the DIS (DIS comprehension). We coded responses dichotomously as correct or incorrect. We compared Medication Dosing and DIS comprehension by age, comfort with speaking English, birthplace, number of years in the United States, and education. Regression analyses were performed to adjust for these potential confounders.

Results: Of 100 participants, 22% correctly dosed the medication; 29% correctly answered all questions regarding the Spanish DIS. Of subjects comfortable speaking English, 50% correctly demonstrated the amount of medicine to give. Overall, higher education and comfort speaking English were associated with better Medication Dosing. Higher education and birth in South America were associated with better DIS comprehension.

Conclusions: Few parents with LEP were able to understand routinely dispensed written medication instructions. Pediatricians should not assume that Spanish-speaking Latino parents who are comfortable speaking English will understand a prescription label written in English, or that Latino parents who speak Spanish will understand drug information written in Spanish.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Comprehension*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Labeling
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hispanic or Latino*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • New York City
  • Regression Analysis