Contextualizing an expanded definition of health literacy among adolescents in the health care setting

Health Educ Res. 2012 Dec;27(6):961-74. doi: 10.1093/her/cys054. Epub 2012 May 21.


The current emphasis on preventive health care and wellness services suggests that measures of skills and competencies needed to effectively navigate the health care system need to be better defined. We take an expanded perspective of health literacy and define it as a set of skills used to organize and apply health knowledge, attitudes and practices relevant when managing one's health environment. It is an emerging area of inquiry especially among adults and those with chronic conditions; however, it has been less studied among adolescent populations. To begin operationalizing this concept in a manner appropriate for teens in a health systems context, we explored knowledge, attitudes and practices related to health and preventive health care in 12 focus groups with publicly insured adolescents (N = 137), aged 13-17 years, as well as eight key informant interviews with physicians who serve publicly insured teens. Five dimensions emerged that provide a preliminary framework for an expanded definition of health literacy among adolescents. These include: (i) navigating the system, (ii) rights and responsibilities, (iii) preventive care, (iv) information seeking and (v) patient-provider relationship. This robust definition of health literacy contextualizes the concept in a health environment where individuals must be informed and skilled health care consumers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Facilities*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Primary Prevention / education*
  • Qualitative Research