Lily Allen

Inadequate health literacy is a public health challenge: according to the European Health Literacy Survey, 47.6% of the adult population in 8 countries of WHO European Region have poor or inadequate levels of health literacy. Advancement in policy actions and interventions on health literacy in the Region have been slow.

Policy resources

Health literacy must be recognized as a key element of public health policies that are effective in promoting health through the life course, improving the effectiveness of health systems, and endorsing equity in health outcomes.

The challenge facing policy-makers lies in addressing key risk factors within, across and outside the health sector. Policies must encourage the implementation of effective actions through cross-sectoral collaboration by emphasizing the shared benefits of investing in health literacy.

Resources for action

These practical outlines and tools can assist policy-makers from all government sectors in integrating health literacy within the political agenda.

In focus: co-design: matching the needs of the community with the priorities of health stakeholders
Interview with Professor Richard Osborne

What is the evidence on the methods, frameworks and indicators used to evaluate health literacy policies, programmes and interventions at the regional, national and organizational levels? (2019)

Health Literacy Toolkit for Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Emergency risk communication (ERC) 5-step capacity-building package

Health literacy policy and analysis: European Health Information Gateway

What is the evidence on existing policies and linked activities and their effectiveness for improving health literacy at national, regional and organizational levels in the WHO European Region?
Health Evidence Networks Synthesis Report 57, 2018

Health literacy: towards system level solutions
The BMJ, 24 February 2015

Accelerating the health literacy agenda in Europe
Health Promotion International, Volume 32, Issue 6, December 2017, Pages 1074–1080

A rapid evidence review of interventions for improving health literacy
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, May 2012

Health literacy for people-centred care: Where do the OECD countries stand?
OECD Health Working Papers No. 107, 12 December 2018

IUHPE Position Statement on Health Literacy: a practical vision for a health literate world
IUHPE – Global Health Promotion, Vol. 25, No. 4, 2018

Global Health Promotion: Special issue on health literacy
Global Health Promotion, Volume 25, Issue 4, December 2018

European Commission eHealth Task Force Report
European Commission, June 2012

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Key documents developed by WHO/Europe highlight how health literacy has been central to all aspects of public health.

Health 2020: A European policy framework and strategy for the 21st century

Priorities for health systems strengthening in the WHO European Region 2015–2020: walking to talk on people centredness


Investing in health literacy: What do we know about the co-benefits to the education sector of actions targeted at children and young people? (2016)

Health 2020: education and health through early development (2015)

Health 2020: Education and health through the life-course (2015)

Healthy Cities

Healthy Cities: Promoting health and equity – evidence for local policy and practice (2014)

Migration and health

Health promotion for improved refugee and migrant health (2018)

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

Discussion Paper on promoting, measuring and implementing health literacy: Implications for policy and practice in non-communicable disease prevention and control (2017)

WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (GCM/NCD) Working Group Interim Report

Primary care

Austrian health care reform: An opportunity to implement health promotion into primary health care units
Public Health Panorama, Volume 4, Issue 4, December 2018

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Facts and figures

WHO believes in an inclusive view of health literacy, broadly defining it as “the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health”. The concept of health literacy has evolved significantly since its introduction, and now includes a complex and interconnected set of abilities.

Strengthening people’s health literacy and the health literacy responsiveness of systems is essential to create the conditions necessary for maintaining health and well-being, and to empower communities and individuals to be engaged, informed and confident participants in decision-making about their own health.

Health Literacy in Europe: comparative results of the European health literacy survey
European Journal of Public Health (2015), Vol 25, No. 6, 1053–1058

Health literacy and public health: A systematic review and integration of definitions and models
BMC Public Health, 5 January 2012

Health literacy: The solid facts (2013)

Health Behaviour In School-Aged Children (HBSC)

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