Communicating genetic and genomic information: health literacy and numeracy considerations

Public Health Genomics. 2011;14(4-5):279-89. doi: 10.1159/000294191. Epub 2010 Apr 20.


Genomic research is transforming our understanding of the role of genes in health and disease. These advances, and their application to common diseases that affect large segments of the general population, suggest that researchers and practitioners in public health genomics will increasingly be called upon to translate genomic information to individuals with varying levels of health literacy and numeracy. This paper discusses the current state of research regarding public understanding of genetics and genomics, the influence of health literacy and numeracy on genetic communication, and behavioral responses to genetic and genomic information. The existing research suggests that members of the general public have some familiarity with genetic and genomic terms but have gaps in understanding of underlying concepts. Findings from the limited research base to date indicate that health literacy affects understanding of print and oral communications about genetic and genomic information. Numeracy is also likely to be an important predictor of being able to understand and apply this information, although little research has been conducted in this area to date. In addition, although some research has examined behavior change in response to the receipt of information about genetic risk for familial disorders and genomic susceptibility to common, complex diseases, the effects of health literacy and numeracy on these responses have not been examined. Potential areas in which additional research is needed are identified and practical suggestions for presenting numeric risk information are outlined. Public health genomics researchers and practitioners are uniquely positioned to engage in research that explores how different audiences react to and use genomic risk information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Genomics*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Public Health*