Health literacy - Is our education system addressing or widening health inequalities?

Posted on Thursday 29th May 2014

Exam season is upon us once more and in the course of the coming few weeks, hundreds of thousands of UK pupils will be lining up their lucky charms and hoping for some divine inspiration from them.

Last year, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) reported that only 0.7% (5,118) of entrants did not score a pass in GCSE English language and only 2.7% (20,525) of entrants did not score a pass in GCSE maths – a pass being anything between an A*-G grade. This should seem encouraging in terms of assessing future population levels of functional literacy and numeracy – the basic building blocks of health literacy.

However, research undertaken by Professor Gill Rowlands at London South Bank University to compare functional literacy and numeracy levels and the levels of literacy and numeracy required to understand actual health-related materials such as health screening posters, medicine labels etc. suggests that 42% of people would be unable to effectively understand health information, rising to 62% when comprehension also required numeracy skills.

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