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Health literacy: an essential skill for the twenty‐first century

Ilona Kickbusch (Kickbusch Health Consult, Brienz, Switzerland)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 22 February 2008




The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of low health literacy and identify how this can have detrimental effects on citizens and their health. It looks at the current overload of information about health in today's society, how that leaves many confused and unsure of the correct advice to follow, and how governments and other decision makers can take steps to address this problem.


Previous research and statistics have been examined and the author offers ideas on how the situation can be changed.


The paper notes that a substantial proportion of the thousands of marketing messages each person receives every day concern health and it is a topic about which citizens proactively seek information. This variety of sources and their respective advice can lead to confusion and too much information, which can prevent action being taken. Health literacy is fundamentally important to maintaining a population's health, but levels are often low. The paper concludes that action is needed in three areas: increasing health literacy of citizens, improving communications skills of professionals, and increasing readability of systems. Many can contribute to this goal, but there is a special responsibility for governments, for example in implementing health literacy programmes in schools and special support for people with low health literacy. Citizens must also become more active to build an essential life‐skill that provides a building‐block for health.


This paper contains new thoughts and conclusions and is of value to a variety of agencies, including government, as well as individuals looking to increase health literacy levels.



Kickbusch, I. (2008), "Health literacy: an essential skill for the twenty‐first century", Health Education, Vol. 108 No. 2, pp. 101-104.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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