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Health Promot Int. 2012 Mar;27(1):117-26. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dar043. Epub 2011 Jun 30.

Defining and measuring health literacy: how can we profit from other literacy domains?

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  • 1Universit√† della Svizzera italiana, Via Giuseppe Buffi 13, Lugano, Switzerland.


When the antecedents of health-promoting behavior are explored, the concept of health literacy is deemed a factor of major influence. Originally defined as reading, writing and numeracy skills in the health domain, health literacy is now considered a multidimensional concept. The ongoing discussion on health literacy reveals that no agreement exists about which dimensions to include in the concept. To contribute to the development of a consistent and parsimonious concept of health literacy, we conducted a critical review of concepts in other literacy domains. Our review was guided by two research questions: (i) Which dimensions are included in the concepts of other literacy domains? (ii) How can health literacy research profit from other literacy domains? Based on articles collected from PubMed, PsycINFO, Communication & Mass Media Complete, CINAHL, SAGE Full-Text Collection, Cochrane Library and Google Scholar as well as selected monographs and editions, we identified seven distinct dimensions. Some of the dimensions recur across all reviewed literacy domains and first attempts have been made to operationalize the dimensions. Expanding upon these dimensions, the paper discusses how they can prove useful for elaborating a consistent and parsimonious concept of health literacy and foster the development of a more holistic measure.

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