The relationship between literacy and health

J Health Care Poor Underserved. 1991 Spring;1(4):351-63. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2010.0294.


In non-industrialized countries, populations with the lowest literacy rates have the poorest health status. In the United States, however, there is no published research on whether illiteracy, independently of other sociodemographic factors, is related to health status. There are numerous plausible mechanisms by which such a relationship could occur. For example, published reports indicate that most information handouts, consent forms, and other materials for patients are written at reading levels too difficult for most American adults. These and other findings may have important implications in the health care of underserved populations. Research is needed to determine the health effects of impaired literacy skills among Americans, and to develop non-literacy-dependent methods for providing patient education, obtaining informed consent, and administering diagnostic tests.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Health Services Research*
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Patient Education as Topic