Report says Canadians lacking in health literacy

More than half of Canadian adults do not have the skills necessary to properly make daily decisions about their health, according to a report released yesterday by the Canadian Public Health Association.



Its expert panel called the low levels of health literacy in Canada "critical" and says a countrywide strategy is needed to solve the problem, especially since our health-care system will become increasingly complex.



Only one in eight seniors have adequate health literacy skills, which suggests they may not be able to cope with the health-care system on their own, the panel found.

This is particularly worrying since seniors are more likely to have chronic health problems and need more medications than the average adult Canadian, the panel said.

Recent immigrants, people with low incomes and low levels of education, and people for whom English or French is not a first language are also most likely to struggle with health literacy, said Irving Rootman, executive director of the Health and Learning Centre at the University of Victoria, and co-chair of the expert panel.

Health literacy is defined as the ability to access, understand and use health information. Studies have shown low health literacy is linked to poor health. Research has shown the prevalence of diabetes — a chronic condition that can be managed with lifestyle changes — goes down as health literacy goes up.