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. 2016 Sep 22;16(1):508.
doi: 10.1186/s12913-016-1754-2.

Measuring Health Literacy in Community Agencies: A Bayesian Study of the Factor Structure and Measurement Invariance of the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ)

Free PMC article

Measuring Health Literacy in Community Agencies: A Bayesian Study of the Factor Structure and Measurement Invariance of the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ)

Gerald R Elsworth et al. BMC Health Serv Res. .
Free PMC article


Background: The development of the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ), reported in 2013, attracted widespread international interest. While the original study samples were drawn from clinical and home-based aged-care settings, the HLQ was designed for the full range of healthcare contexts including community-based health promotion and support services. We report a follow-up study of the psychometric properties of the HLQ with respondents from a diverse range of community-based organisations with the principal goal of contributing to the development of a soundly validated evidence base for its use in community health settings.

Methods: Data were provided by 813 clients of 8 community agencies in Victoria, Australia who were administered the HLQ during the needs assessment stage of the Ophelia project, a health literacy-based intervention. Most analyses were conducted using Bayesian structural equation modelling that enables rigorous analysis of data but with some relaxation of the restrictive requirements for zero cross-loadings and residual correlations of 'classical' confirmatory factor analysis. Scale homogeneity was investigated with one-factor models that allowed for the presence of small item residual correlations while discriminant validity was studied using the inter-factor correlations and factor loadings from a full 9-factor model with similar allowance for small residual correlations and cross-loadings. Measurement invariance was investigated scale-by-scale using a model that required strict invariance of item factor loadings, thresholds, residual variances and co-variances.

Results: All HLQ scales were found to be homogenous with composite reliability ranging from 0.80 to 0.89. The factor structure of the HLQ was replicated and 6 of the 9 scales were found to exhibit clear-cut discriminant validity. With a small number of exceptions involving non-invariance of factor loadings, strict measurement invariance was established across the participating organisations and the gender, language background, age and educational level of respondents.

Conclusions: The HLQ is highly reliable, even with only 4 to 6 items per scale. It provides unbiased mean estimates of group differences across key demographic indicators. While measuring relatively narrow constructs, the 9 dimensions are clearly separate and therefore provide fine-grained data on the multidimensional area of health literacy. These analyses provide researchers, program managers and policymakers with a range of robust evidence by which they can make judgements about the appropriate use of the HLQ for their community-based setting.

Keywords: BSEM; Bayesian structural equation modelling; HLQ; Health Literacy Questionnaire; Health literacy; Measurement invariance.

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