The Many Layers of Health Literacy

With all the health and nutrition mis-information out there, health literacy is an important topic to cover with your clients, students, and employees.

But where to start? Because once you begin looking at health literacy, you see that it’s more than fighting fake health news.

Like an onion, health literacy has many layers. Let’s peel them back!


From fad diets to cancer cures, dietitians and other health professionals deal with mis-information constantly. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could teach everyone how to spot quackery and where to find credible information? Our Health Literacy PowerPoint show helps you do just that! It’s appropriate for virtually all audiences, from teens to older adults.

Health decisions:

Health literacy also includes being able to use information to make health-related decisions. That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. It focuses on two core principles:

  • Personal health literacy: All people have the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions
  • Organizational health literacy: Health services should be delivered in ways that are easy to understand and that improve health, longevity, and quality of life

Health equity:

Healthy People 2030 focuses on health literacy through the initiative’s goal to eliminate health disparities, achieve health equity, and attain health literacy to improve the health and well-being of all.

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, low health literacy is more prevalent among:

  • Older adults
  • Minority populations
  • Individuals with low-incomes
  • Medically under-served people

Health economics:

Low health literacy leads to higher medical costs. According to the CDC, improving health literacy could prevent nearly one million hospital visits and save more than $25 billion a year.

Literacy vs. health literacy:

In addition to being aware of health literacy, you need consider that as many as half of U.S. adults have limited literacy skills (source). Reaching both populations means keeping health messages basic and free of medical jargon. Two resources for this are:

Health literacy and mis-information came to the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic. This resulted in another good resource: Confronting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Healthy Information Environment. Take a look at the chapters on what educators and health professionals can do.

Hollis Bass, MEd, RD, LD



Happy Health Literacy Month!

Consulting with a DoctorOctober is Health Literacy Month! Today I’d like to offer you some of our best health literacy resources. Here’s a preview of the Health Literacy handout that’s usually reserved for people who get the popular Health Literacy PowerPoint from the Nutrition Education Store.

What is Health Literacy?

Health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions” (source).

There are three main components of health literacy:

  • Obtain
  • Process
  • Understand

Step One: Obtain

To obtain good health information, you need to know the difference between scientific facts and unfounded opinions.

Consider the source. What’s in it for them? For example, a health food store might tell you to purchase something that you don’t really need, while the Tobacco Institute asserted that smoking was safe to consume for many many years.

Choose scientific resources. Scientific studies that are published in peer-reviewed journals are a great place for obtaining good evidence. You don’t have to go through the journals themselves — try consumer-friendly sources like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate.

Seek the truth, not a magic bullet. Sometime change is hard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your while.

Step Two: Process

The more you read and learn, the more you will be able to process information and evaluate what you read. To successfully process health information, you must have the ability, will, and capacity to change.

You can’t always control your condition. You can control your participation and willingness to learn.

Step Three: Understand

Do you understand enough of what you’re learning? Will you be able to make decisions based on your understanding?

Try these steps to build up your understanding…

  • Read as much as you can (remember those credible sources).
  • Ask questions when you visit your healthcare team.
  • Find professionals that you trust.
  • Take notes.
  • Come up with your own action plan.

That’s just the beginning. For a comprehensive look at building health literacy, don’t miss the Health Literacy PowerPoint presentation. It has a detailed guide to each of the 3 steps for improving health literacy, along with a look at the benefits of being well-informed, suggested questions to ask a healthcare provider, a list of the best sources for consumers, and much much more!

And I would never leave you without a handout! Here’s a free PDF that covers the basics of health literacy.

Health Literacy Handout

There are lots of ways to help your clients build health literacy! Check out these fantastic resources from the Nutrition Education Store

MyPlate DVD

Dietary Guidelines Poster Set

DIY Health Plan Game