May 16 marks the start of the European Public Health Week. The theme of the week is “Health throughout the life course”, and on its first day, the focus is on “A healthy and health literate youth”.
Health literacy is the ability of individuals to understand, critically appraise and use information related to their health [i]. Low health literacy levels influence health knowledge and can have a negative impact on preventive behaviours and on the ability to follow healthcare programmes [ii]. Various studies highlight the social gradient of health literacy by showing its unequal distribution across sociodemographic groups in Europe. Health literacy is thus considered as an important component of the social determinants of health which are responsible for health inequalities and avoidable differences in health status within and between countries. Given the close link between health literacy and education, and their impact on health throughout the life course, a health literate youth should be a priority for all countries to enable the modification of health inequalities.
For people living with diabetes (PwD), self-management is a key component of optimal diabetes management, and it requires continuous education and support. Health literacy is a key driver of self-management behaviours, including physical activity, healthy eating, medication adherence, blood glucose monitoring and diabetes self-care-related problem solving. As a result, PwD with high levels of health literacy, are more likely to cope with diabetes self-management challenges compared to those with low health literacy [iii]. Similarly, various studies have shown that lower health literacy levels lead to less adherence to guidelines on health and increased incidence of hospitalisation and complications in chronic diseases due to noncompliance with prevention guidelines [ii]. All PwD should be empowered to take informed decisions and be full partners of their own care. To do this, educational institutions should provide healthy living education to all, regardless of their circumstances, and health institutions should promote programmes that incorporate patients’ perspectives, lifestyles and socioeconomic status for diabetes prevention.
Tackling health literacy today, by equipping all people from a young age to be able to access, understand and use information to act as active participants in decision-making about health, is crucial to ensure that tomorrow will be more equitable for all.
[i] WHO/Europe. Health literacy in the context of health, well-being and learning outcomes the case of children and adolescents in schools: the case of children and adolescents in schools (2021). https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/Life-stages/child-and-adolescent-health/publications/2021/health-literacy-in-the-context-of-health,-well-being-and-learning-outcomes-the-case-of-children-and-adolescents-in-schools-the-case-of-children-and-adolescents-in-schools-2021
[ii] The Relationship Between Health Literacy Level and Self-Care Behaviors in Patients with Diabetes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7211311/
[iii] Association of health literacy and diabetes self-management: a systematic review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31710832/