Health Literacy in Healthy People

Health literacy is a central focus of Healthy People 2030. One of the initiative’s overarching goals demonstrates this focus: “Eliminate health disparities, achieve health equity, and attain health literacy to improve the health and well-being of all.” 

Which Healthy People 2030 objectives are related to health literacy? 

Six Healthy People objectives — developed by the Health Communication and Health Information Technology Workgroup — are related to health literacy:

How does Healthy People define health literacy?

Healthy People 2030 addresses both personal health literacy and organizational health literacy and provides the following definitions:

  • Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
  • Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

These definitions are a change from the health literacy definition used in Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020: “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” The new definitions:

  • Emphasize people’s ability to use health information rather than just understand it
  • Focus on the ability to make “well-informed” decisions rather than “appropriate” ones
  • Incorporate a public health perspective
  • Acknowledge that organizations have a responsibility to address health literacy

Learn more about the history of Healthy People’s health literacy definitions.

Personal health literacy

Healthy People 2030’s definition of personal health literacy is aligned with the concept that people’s health literacy can be assessed at a given point in time. Such a definition is important for conducting both population studies and research on interventions aimed at ensuring equal access to information and services for people with limited literacy skills.

The new definition — with its emphasis on the use of health information and its public health perspective — may also prompt new ways of studying and promoting personal health literacy. In addition, it encourages efforts to address the skills that help people move from understanding to action and from a focus on their own health to a focus on the health of their communities.

Organizational health literacy

By adopting a definition for organizational health literacy, Healthy People acknowledges that personal health literacy is contextual and that producers of health information and services have a role in improving health literacy. The definition also emphasizes organizations’ responsibility to equitably address health literacy, in line with Healthy People 2030’s overarching goals.

In addition, including a definition for organizational health literacy in Healthy People aligns with the HHS National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.