Plain language: a strategic response to the health literacy challenge

J Public Health Policy. 2007;28(1):71-93. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.jphp.3200102.


Low health literacy is a major challenge confronting American and international health organizations. Research in the past decade has documented the prevalence of limited literacy and limited health literacy skills among adults worldwide. This creates a major policy challenge: how to create text-based health information - a common method of health communication - that is accessible to the public. Plain language is a logical, flexible response. While touted by American, Canadian, and European health policy makers, adoption and promotion of plain language standards and skills in health-focused organizations have lagged. Most text-based health information continues to be too hard for most adults to read. Barriers to more rapid diffusion of plain language are reflected in a set of myths perpetuated by critics. These myths are identified and refuted. While plain language is only one of many broad-based solutions needed to address low health literacy, the benefits to everyone demand increased use by health organizations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Health Education*
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation*
  • Language*
  • National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, U.S., Health and Medicine Division
  • United States
  • United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality