Beyond the bench and bedside: Health literacy is fundamental to sustainable health and development

Gillian P. Christie, Scott C. Ratzan
2019 Information Services and Use  
Thirty years after the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -predicated on seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -were unveiled to the global community. Health literacy is an essential precondition and indicator of achieving the SDGs. Efforts to define and describe health literacy within public health and medicine have identified that the skills and abilities of many populations are inadequate to navigate the demands and complexity of health
more » ... nd healthcare. The authors suggest health literacy must move beyond the bench and bedside in clinical practice to achieve the aspirations and objectives of the SDGs. This report synthesizes major developments in health literacy and draws from related disciplines to propose opportunities and future directions to improve health literacy across the lifespan. It introduces the cases of early childhood vaccinations; alcohol intake in adolescence; and dementia care in older adults to demonstrate the need for health literacy across the life course. It also draws on digital health data and technology and multisectoral partnerships to define the future of health literacy. The authors believe these approaches can and will lead to unlikely collaborations that advance health and well-being throughout and beyond the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While not explicitly included in the indicators or targets of the SDGs, health literacy -defined as "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions" -is essential to achieving the economic, environmental, and social ambitions of the SDGs [3]. Better health literacy across all populations underpins improvements in the other SDGs, including eradication of poverty and hunger, quality education, and reduced inequalities [4] . Achieving the SDGs will require a dedicated focus on health literacy by all actors in global partnership to ensure no one is left behind and to deliver universal health coverage. Despite increased multisectoral interest and compelling scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of health literacy, the inadequacy of the skills and abilities of individuals to navigate the demands and complexity of health and healthcare persists. While these concerns affect communities in the United States (U.S.) and many other high-income countries, the gap is particularly acute in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) that are often characterized by underdeveloped health systems. Within both contexts, the ability for individuals to prevent and manage complex and costly diseases is limited by poor health literacy. Beyond the individual, however, equal attention must be targeted on governments and healthcare systems to provide accurate and accessible health information [4] . Realizing the need for improved health literacy in achieving the SDGs during the next thirty years and beyond, this chapter synthesizes major developments and proposes opportunities and future directions for health literacy across the lifespan. It uses the cases of early childhood vaccinations; alcohol use in adolescence; and dementia care in older adults to demonstrate the need to develop health literacy across the life course. It also draws on digital health data and technology and multisectoral partnerships to define the future of health literacy. The authors believe this can and will lead to unlikely collaborations that advance health and well-being throughout and beyond the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
doi:10.3233/isu-180037 fatcat:bxpvlutqmjbcdajtneoeofpdly