A review of health literacy: Definitions, interpretations, and implications for policy initiatives

Leslie J. Malloy-Weir, Cathy Charles, Amiram Gafni, Vikki Entwistle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)
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Definitions and interpretations of ‘health literacy’ have important implications for the delivery of health care and for health policy-related initiatives. We conducted a systematic review and critical analysis to determine the extent to which definitions of health literacy differ in the academic literature, the similarities and differences across definitions, and possible interpretations for the most commonly used definitions. We identified 250 different definitions of health literacy and grouped them into three categories: (i) most commonly used definitions (n=6), (ii) modified versions of these most commonly used definitions (n=133), and (iii) ‘other’ definitions (n=111). We found the most commonly used definitions to be open to multiple interpretations and to reflect underlying assumptions that are not always justifiable. Attention is needed to the ways in which differing definitions and interpretations of health literacy may affect patient care and the delivery of health literacy-related policy initiatives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)334-352
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Public Health Policy
Issue number3
Early online date19 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016



  • health literacy
  • health policy
  • literature review

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