Improving health literacy in community populations: a review of progress
Governments around the world have adopted national policies and programs to improve health literacy. This paper examines progress in the development of evidence to support these policies from interventions to improve health literacy among community populations. Our review found only a limited number of studies (n=7) that met the criteria for inclusion, with many more influenced by the concept of health literacy but not using it in the design and evaluation. Those included were diverse in setting, population and intended outcomes. All included educational strategies to develop functional health literacy, and a majority designed to improve interactive or critical health literacy skills. Several papers were excluded because they described a protocol for an intervention, but not results, indicating that our review may be early in a cycle of activity in community intervention research. The review methodology may not have captured all relevant studies, but it provides a clear message that the academic interest and attractive rhetoric surrounding health literacy needs to be tested more systematically through intervention experimentation in a wide range of populations using valid and reliable measurement tools. The distinctive influence of the concept of health literacy on the purpose and methodologies of health education and communication is not reflected in many reported interventions at present. Evidence to support the implementation of national policies and programs, and the intervention tools required by community practitioners are not emerging as quickly as needed. This should be addressed as a matter of priority by research funding agencies.