Health Literacy Fact Sheet

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health literacy as "the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions." It includes knowing how to describe symptoms, where to find help for health issues, how to understand medical information and how to safely manage the use of medication. Increasing health literacy is essential to empowering individuals to manage their health and advocate for their and their family’s wellbeing, as well as reducing the burden on Canada’s healthcare system.

 

  • 60 per cent of adults in Canada lack the capacity to obtain, understand and act upon health information and services and to make appropriate health decisions on their own. Seniors, immigrants and unemployed people possess, on average, lower levels of health literacy skills (Health Literacy in Canada: A Healthy Understanding – Canadian Council on Learning, 2008).
  • More than 50% of Canadians aged 12 or older report at least one chronic condition and by age 65, 77% of men and 85% of women have at least one chronic condition. Research estimates that providing chronic patients with education on self-management as well as ongoing supervision by a case manager could yield a savings of over $2,000 per patient per year (A Vision for a Health Literate Canada – Canadian Public Health Association, 2008).
  • There are more adults with low health literacy (60%) than there are with low levels of prose literacy (48% - defined as the ability to understand and use information from texts), which suggests that the two literacies are distinct. Health literacy tasks usually involve the use of prose literacy, document literacy and numeracy skills simultaneously (Health Literacy in Canada: A Healthy Understanding – Canadian Council on Learning, 2008).
  • 23 per cent of Canadians find it "fairly difficult" or "very difficult" to find out where to get professional help when they are ill, and 54 per cent find it "fairly difficult" or "very difficult" to judge when to seek a second opinion from another doctor (Consumer Health Products Canada, 2017).
  • Canadian adults with less than a high-school education perform well below adults with higher levels of education on health literacy tests and this gap widens with age (Health Literacy in Canada: A Healthy Understanding – Canadian Council on Learning, 2008).
  • Canadians with the lowest health-literacy skills according to the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (2007), were found to be: more than 2.5 times as likely to be in fair or poor health when compared to those at higher skill levels; less than half as likely to have participated in a community group or to have volunteered; and more than 2.5 times as likely to be receiving income support (Health Literacy in Canada: A Healthy Understanding – Canadian Council on Learning, 2008).

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