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The Health Literacy Definitions provide an overview of definitions applied in health literacy research, policy, education and practice.  

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Dodson et al.


`The personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health. Health literacy includes the capacity to communicate, assert and enact these decisions.’

Sørensen et al.


`Health literacy is linked to literacy and entails people’s knowledge, motivation and competencies to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make judgements and take decisions in everyday life concerning healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain and improve quality of life during the life course.’

Wu et al.


`Health literate individuals are able to understand and apply health information in ways that allow them to take more control over their health through, for example, appraising the credibility, accuracy, and relevance of information and action on that information to change their health behaviours or living conditions.’

Paakari and Paakari


`Health literacy comprises a broad range of knowledge and competencies that people seek to encompass, evaluate, construct and use. Through health literacy competencies people become able to understand themselves, others and the world in a way that will enable them to make sound health decisions, and to work on and change the factors that constitute their own and others’ health chances.

Massey et al.


`A set of skills used to organise and apply health knowledge, attitudes and practices relevant when managing one’s health environment.’

Freedman et al.


`The degree to which individuals and groups can obtain process, understand, evaluate, and act upon information needed to make public health decisions that benefit the community.

Adkins and Corus


`The ability to derive meaning from different forms of communication by using a variety of skills to accomplish health-related objectives.’

Adams et al.


`The ability to understand and interpret the meaning of health information in written, spoken or digital form and how this motivates people to embrace or disregard actions relating to health.

Yost et al.


`The degree to which individuals have the capacity to read and comprehend health-related print material, identify and interpret information presented in graphical format (charts, graphs and tables), and perform arithmetic operations in order to make appropriate health and care decisions.’

Australian Bureau of Statistics


`The knowledge and skills required to understand and use information relating to health issues such as drugs and alcohol, disease prevention and treatment, safety and accident prevention, first aid, emergencies, and staying healthy.’



`A process that evolves over one’s lifetime and encompasses the attributes of capacity, comprehension, and communication. The attributes of health literacy are integrated within and preceded by the skills, strategies, and abilities embedded within the competencies needed to attain health literacy.’

Ishikawa and Yano


`The knowledge, skills and abilities that pertain to interactions with the healthcare system.’

Rootman and Gordon -El-Bihbety


‘The ability to access, understand, evaluate and communicate information as a way to promote, maintain and improve health in a variety of settings across the life course.’ (Rootman and Gordon-El-Bihbety, 2008)



`The capacity to obtain, interpret and understand basic health information and services and the competence to use such information to enhance health.’

European Commission


`The ability to read, filter and understand health information to form sound judgments.’

Kwan et al.


`… people’s ability to find, understand, appraise and communicate information to engage with the demands of different health contexts to promote health across the lifecourse.’

Paasche-Orlow and Wolf


`An individual’s possession of requisite skills for making health-related decisions, which means that health literacy must always be examined in the context of the specific tasks that need to be accomplished. The importance of a contextual appreciation of health literacy must be underscored.’)

Zarcadoolas et al.


‘The wide range of skills, and competencies that people develop to seek out, comprehend, evaluate and use health information and concepts to make informed choices, reduce health risks and increase quality of life.’

Kickbusch et al.


`The ability to make sound health decision(s) in the context of everyday life – at home, in the community, at the workplace, the healthcare system, the market place and the political arena. It is a critical empowerment strategy to increase people’s control over their health, their ability to seek out information and their ability to take responsibility.’

Nielsen-Bohlman et al.


`The individuals’ capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.’

Fok and Wong


`To understand and act upon physical and psycho-social activities with appropriate standards, being able to interact with people and cope with necessary changes and; demands reasonable autonomy so as to achieve complete physical, mental and social well-being.’

American Medical Association


‘The constellation of skills, including the ability to perform basic reading and numeral tasks required to function in the healthcare environment.’



`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.’

Joint Commission on National Health Education Standards


`Health literacy is the capacity of individuals to obtain, interpret, and understand basic health information and services and the competence to use such information and services in ways which enhance health.´

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