Ana Rita Pedro on health literacy in Europe

At the recent European Health Forum Gastein, a group of “young Gasteiners” blogged live from the talks. A selection of the blogs are on the BMJ blogsite. Tessa Richards, assistant editor, BMJ, also attended the conference. You can read her blog and introduction to the “young Gasteiners” here.

Ana Rita PedroHealth literacy is a big challenge in Europe nowadays. It is the capacity of people to meet the complex demands of health in modern society, so why is it so important? Research has shown that people with low health literacy are less knowledgeable about the importance of preventive health measures, they have a higher risk of hospital admission, and the additional costs of limited health literacy range from 3-5% of the total health cost per year.

In this forum the pilot results of the European Health Literacy Survey (HLS-EU) were presented. The HLS-EU is a project which will measure health literacy in various European regions and create awareness of its societal and political impact in Europe.

In this pilot study 99 people were interviewed. The results presented suggest that the health information provided by family doctors is the most reliable for the respondents. It is the best way to pass the message, and they are better informed about physical activity and nutrition. The main conclusion of the pilot results are that there are differences among younger and older generations; the ability to access, understand, appraise, and apply information is related to life events; and suggests people are confident in terms of managing their health and navigating the system, but place less trust in authorities as health advisors.

Key messages from speakers at the forum on health literacy:

  • “Recognizing health literacy as a public health goal.” (K. Sorensen)
  • “HLS-EU helps establish the issue of health literacy in Europe” (G. Doyle)
  • “Health literacy is something that saves the next generations. I really believe in the importance of this” (A. Parvanova)
  • “Health literacy is health promotion by another name (health education) plus empowerment.” (J. Wills)
  • “Health literacy has universal relevance in Prevention, Health Promotion, Patient centered chronic disease management.” (N. Bedlington)
  • “Health literacy should be a real priority at EU level – comprehensive strategy.” (N. Bedlington)

Can the promotion of Health Literacy be really important to create a better future in Europe?

Ana Rita Pedro is a research assistant from the Department of Policies and Health Administration at the Portuguese School of Public Health

You can read more blogs from the Young Gasteiners on the BMJ blogsite. The rest can be read on