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Health literacy: How to improve health behaviors

Health literacy is defined as "people´s knowledge, motivation and competences to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make judgements and take decisions in everyday life healthcare concerning disease prevention and health promotion to maintain and improve quality of life during the life course." In a new volume Anne-Kathrin Mayer and colleagues shed light on the concept of health literacy from different disciplines: psychology, educational sciences, health sciences and public health, communication sciences, and information sciences. All papers argue for a broad conceptual understanding of health literacy.

Authors stress the importance of health literacy for changing multiple health-risk behaviors and replacing them with healthier lifestyles, i.e. multiple health behaviors. The authors argue that risk behaviors are often based on a lack of knowledge or on misinformation; thus, fostering health literacy may be considered a key factor in interventions which aim at improving health behaviors. Changes in levels of health literacy may be achieved by provision of information via different channels, by effective measures of health communication and by structured education programs.


When designing interventions, one has to keep in mind that people differ considerably in their levels of health literacy. In addition, they may profit from different methodological approaches. Thus, personalized intervention programs are needed which take into account individual differences in previous knowledge, competencies, and preferences. Computerbased interventions seem ideal to fulfil these requirements as they allow for individualized, adaptive programs with contents and and presentation modalities which are tailored to the individual. Accordingly, it has been demonstrated that health literacy skills may be improved by eHealth and mHealth interventions for people with different health conditions, risk factors, and sociooeconomic backgrounds.



Anne-Kathrin Mayer (Ed.) Health literacy across the life span. Pabst, 168 pages. Paperback ISBN 978-3-95853-449-0. eBook ISBN 978-3-95853-450-6   

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