Risks associated with low functional health literacy in an Australian population

Med J Aust. 2009 Nov 16;191(10):530-4. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb03304.x.


Objective: To measure the level of functional health literacy (FHL) in an Australian population, and to explore the level of risk associated with level of FHL.

Design, setting and participants: Cross-sectional, random population survey administered to 2824 South Australians aged>or=15 years, September-October 2008.

Main outcome measures: Newest Vital Sign as a measure of FHL, self-reported general health status, and use of health services.

Results: 24% of respondents were at risk of limited FHL, and 21% had a high likelihood of inadequate FHL; this increased with age (>or=65 years, 50% v 25-44 years, 11%). In multiple logistic regression models, a high likelihood of inadequate FHL was significantly more common among those with lower education (left school<or=15 years of age, odds ratio [OR], 8.1; 95% CI, 4.8-13.6); with lower annual income (<$20 000, OR, 4.1; 95% CI, 2.3-7.4); who were born in countries other than Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland; and with poorer health status (OR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.2-2.2). Inadequate FHL was significantly less common among females (OR, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.5-0.8). People with inadequate or at-risk FHL were significantly more likely to report having diabetes, cardiac disease or stroke, and significantly less likely to have recently attended a doctor. Respondents aged>or=65 years with inadequate FHL were more likely to have been admitted to hospital (OR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.1-4.5).

Conclusion: Many Australians are likely to have limited health literacy, and this is a risk to effective health care delivery and health improvement across the community.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Australia
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult