Health literacy: an overlooked factor in understanding HIV health disparities

Am J Prev Med. 2007 Nov;33(5):374-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2007.07.022.


Background: Limited health literacy may be a contributing factor to racial disparities in health care. This study examined the mediating effect of limited health literacy on the relationship between race and HIV-medication adherence.

Methods: A total of 204 patients infected with HIV were recruited from two clinics in 2001. Structured in-person interviews were conducted to obtain information on patient demographics, medication adherence, and health literacy. Multivariate regression models were run in 2006 to examine the associations among race, literacy, and HIV-medication adherence after adjusting for relevant covariates.

Results: In an adjusted analysis that excluded literacy, African Americans were 2.40 times more likely to be nonadherent to their HIV-medication regimen than whites (95% confidence interval [CI]=1.14-5.08). When literacy was included in the final model, the effect estimates of race diminished 25% to nonsignificance. Literacy remained a significant independent predictor of nonadherence (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=2.12, 95% CI=1.93-2.32).

Conclusions: In this study, limited health literacy mediated the relationship between race and HIV-medication adherence. Investigators need to consider the potential utility of responding to literacy and communication barriers in health care as part of interventions to reduce racial disparities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / ethnology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance / ethnology*
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Treatment Refusal / ethnology
  • Whites / psychology*


  • Anti-HIV Agents