Social inequality in health is explained by social factors such as education level, employment, social exclusion, and poverty. In addition, the WHO states that Health literacy is one of three focus areas for health promotion: see WHO’s Shanghai-declaration on health promotion (2016), where it is emphasized  as a key factor impacting social inequality and health.

Health literacy is a dynamic concept which is context dependent and changes throughout the life course.

Thus, health literacy can be addressed from different perspectives, in different settings and on different arenas.

Our research group “Health promotion and interventions” conducts internationally recognized research in health literacy for organizations, staff and citizens.

What is health literacy?

Individual health literacy

“Health literacy is the combination of personal competencies and situational resources needed for people to access, understand, appraise, and use information and services to make decisions about health. It includes the capacity to communicate, assert and act upon these decisions”

(International Union for Health Promotion and Education, 2018)

Individual health literacy impacts a person’s ability to:

  • Find, understand, and assess health information from different sources
  • Navigate healthcare systems and services
  • Engage with health professionals
  • Actively managing one’s own health
  • Identify and apply sources of social support

High individual health literacy is associated with healthier behaviour, lower morbidity, and lower mortality. In addition, high health literacy is associated with higher socio-economic status including for example education level, economic status, and ethnicity.

Increasing health literacy and people’s possibilities to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families, is one of the core pillars in the Shanghai Declaration on health promotion, emphasizing the concept’s importance and implication for health promotion globally.

Individual health literacy can be measured by different validated tools:

  • The Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ)
  • The Health Literacy Survey (HLS)
  • The Health Literacy for School-Aged Children (HLSAC)
  • The European Health Literacy Survey Questionnaire (HLS-EU-Q)

Organizational health literacy responsiveness

“Organizational health literacy responsiveness describes the way in which services, organizations and systems make health information and resources available and accessible to people according to health literacy strengths and limitations”

(International Union for Health Promotion and Education, 2018)

Health literacy responsive organizations work to lower the complexity in the services they provide and the demands they place on individual's health literacy. Further, health literate settings responds to citizens health literacy needs and increase awareness of ways and actions to strengthen health literacy in policies, processes, and standard practices.

Digital health literacy

Digital health literacy is becoming an important factor with the increased digitization of the healthcare system. Digital health literacy or e-health literacy is skills to seek, find, understand, and appraise health information from electronic resources and apply such knowledge to addressing or solving a health problem.

Our research

Our research on health literacy is extensive and includes:

  • National population data and data on specific population on health literacy using different questionnaires
  • Systematic reviews on health literacy (prenatal care, distributed health literacy)
  • Intervention studies focusing on co-creation and organisational responsiveness using the Ophelia process and the Danish adaption OS!
  • Intervention studies focusing on studies of professional competences, and of consultant-patient dialogues using the CHAT dialogue tool

All measurements and tools that we have investigated are available at the Danish website, see link

For more information, please contact:

Anna Sofia Elisabeth Aaby